§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I find it a considerable responsibility to move the Second Reading of the Protection of Birds Bill, because this is, of course, a learned subject. While I myself have always had enormous pleasure and interest in watching birds, I am by no means an expert on ornithology. I know that there are quite a number of right hon. and hon. Members who have mode a life study of birds as one form of nature, and many more who, like myself, find it a perfect relaxation. That is why I value very much the support which has been given to this Bill by hon. Member on both sides of the House, and the interest which has been expressed by many more of them. I hope that everyone will enjoy trying to place this Bill on the Statute Book because, although it is non-political. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that on the degree of the protection of birds views are strong and sometimes passionately held.
I should like to give an outline of the Bill, and not to take too long over it because I know that there are two other hon. Members who are most anxious to get a Second Reading for their own Bills today.
Hon. Members will not fail to notice that this Bill is similar in some respects to that presented in another place. The Government have, however, given no indication that they intend to give Government time for such a Measure to come to this House, or that there would be time in a very full legislative programme for that Bill to pass through this House. Therefore, I was asked whether I would consider introducing this Measure. If it is successful in passing through all its stages, I understand that the Measure in another place will be withdrawn.
The reason for this Bill is that for some years there has been a widespread demand for a comprehensive Measure to clarify the confused state of existing legislation on this subject. This Bill is the reply to 1485*** that demand. It replaces all existing Wild Bird Protection Acts—26 in all, some dating back to the early years of George III—and over 250 Regulations. Because this Measure seeks to embody all the necessary legislation in what one would call a foundation Bill, it is somewhat longer than I like a Private Member's Measure to be for, as hon. Members will see, it has 16 Clauses and six Schedules. But we have to remember that this is the result of a great deal of hard and skilled work by two Advisory Committees, one to the Home Office and one to the Scottish Office. Their discussions ranged over about five years, and, considering that a great many interests ware involved, I think all will agree that it is a triumph that they should have reached a unanimous conclusion.
To give an example and to prove that there is powerful representation of all the interests concerned on these Committees, I will give a list of those bodies represented on the Committees: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the County Councils Association, the International Committee for Bird Preservation, the Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the British Field Sports Society, the Wild Fowlers' Association, the Zoological Society, the British Trust for Ornithology, the British Museum and the British Ornithologists' Union.
While this House is by no means bound by the recommendations of these Committees, nevertheless I suggest that we might recall how much compromise has already had to take place and what a long time it has taken to reach agreement. We may all hold strong views on this and that, and details can always be discussed in Committee if the Bill is fortunate to receive a Second Reading, but I think that if Parliament wishes to place this very-long-awaited Measure on the Statute Book, we, too, shall have to give and take.
The Bill applies to Great Britain, but only in certain respects to Northern Ireland; the exceptions can be seen in Clause 16. The principle of the Bill is clearly laid down in Clause 1: the comprehensive protection of all wild birds and their eggs. Game birds are not included, as defined in the game laws. In Part I of the First Schedule are listed certain birds and their eggs which are 1486 specially protected at all times because they are rare breeders in this country. That applies also to Part II of the First Schedule, which contains a short list of birds and their eggs which are specially protected during the close season. Otherwise, it will be observed, many of the birds are sporting birds. The penalty for an offence against birds listed in the First Schedule is £25 or one month's imprisonment, or up to three months' imprisonment for further offences. In all other cases the penalty for an offence against the Bill is £5.
There are, of course, exceptions to the clear rule of the protection of the bird and the egg, and the main exceptions come under three main heads in Clause 2. First, there are the harmful birds; these are listed in the Second Schedule. The bird, the nest and the egg are unprotected and can be taken at any time by an authorised person. The second group are the food birds. These are listed in the Third Schedule and may be taken outside the close season. It will be seen that these include also the birds listed in Part II of the First Schedule. Neither of these two main classes—the harmful and the food birds—may be taken on Sundays in Scotland or in any other area prescribed by the Secretary of State.
The close season is dealt with in Clause 2 (6). In general, the close season is from 1st February to 31st August. For the capercaillie and woodcock, it is from 1st February to 30th September; for snipe in Scotland from 1st February to 11th August. The Secretary of State can extend but not revoke these seasons. Shore shooting of wild duck and geese is to start on 1st September and may end at any time between 1st and 21st February.
The counties vary greatly in their customs as to the starting of the close season, and under the Bill their present customs are preserved. No county goes as far as to permit shooting up to 21st February but several counties permit it up to 12th February, and their present situation is preserved. The Secretary of State can extend but not revoke this provision, but he can, for instance, revoke it back to 1st February. Speaking entirely personally, I should like this to happen, because in the interests of the preservation of these wild duck and geese and in 1487 the interests of wild fowl themselves, I think that the extension of dates after 1st February runs a considerable risk.
We have, of course, to remember that very few wild fowlers are concerned, and as far as Scotland is concerned there are only the four counties of Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Nairn and Inverness. Wild fowling is a long established sport in Britain, and it can also be said that there is not so much danger of shooting birds on the foreshore as there is inland.
The third main exempted class from the general principle of the Bill as laid down in Clause 1—the comprehensive protection of the bird and the egg—are certain common birds. In Clause 2 (4) the Secretary of State is given power to draw up a list of common birds which will not come under the protection of the Bill. I call this a birdnesting Clause. It is designed entirely so that birdnesting shall not become a criminal offence. Without doubt, certain birds can hold their own against any egg collecting that may take place.
The professional collector is not so much interested in the common bird, and if he pursues the rare species he is liable to special penalty. On the other hand, children do not as a rule come upon the rare species, and they take a great delight in birdnesting. I do not think the House would like to bar what is not only a most exciting pleasure, but one which gives a lasting interest in wild life. I well remember how thrilled I was with my own small egg collection, although I must confess that as a small child I gave pride of place to an ostrich egg which, I assure hon. Members, was not collected in this country.
One fact that we must all face is that to name a list of common birds that are unprotected lays the way open to the hooligan and his wanton damage. These folk can only be countered by education and public opinion. A great deal has been done already by parents and schools to try to encourage the adventure of finding the nests but leaving the egg. It is also true, I think, that, despite the damage that has been done, many birds of the more common variety have held their own with the greatest success.
I should have liked to have presented to the House today a list of these 1488 common birds, but while I have the help and authority of certain distinguished Scottish ornithologists, the equally distinguished English experts were unable in the short time available to agree upon a common list. Indeed, some expressed their disquiet as to whether it was wise to compile a list at all. I felt, therefore, that in leaving at least six months between the possible passing of the Bill, which, if all goes well, should be in about July, and the coming into force of the Act at about the end of next year and the next nesting season, the Secretary of State will have ample time to consult both the Advisory Committees and all the experts concerned to reach, I trust, agreement and to produce a list of common birds.
I should explain the position of the present law. At present, no eggs are protected except those named. The result is that while one county, for example, has perhaps not paid much attention to the matter and many eggs are unprotected, other counties have made such stringent lists that they amount practically to complete prohibition, I have examples of various lists covering England, Wales and Scotland. They deal with a number of species and sub-species which regularly nest in Britain and which amount to about 199 only. The difficulty of studying these lists is that in some cases only the main species are put down and none of the sub-species. Therefore, in fact, a greater number of eggs can be protected than appears in the list.
To give some examples, in Wales only one species is protected in Flint, while Carmarthen has 101. The West Riding of Yorkshire has 161, Cornwall 99 and Westmorland 114. In Scotland, Aberdeen County has 60, Inverness 117 and But has none. Take, for instance, the cities. In Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow all the species are protected; in Aberdeen only 35. Therefore, I feel that it will be of benefit to all the areas concerned to have as uniform a list as possible in which local variations can be introduced. I have myself purposely reversed the old system to carry out the simple and clear principle for the protection of the birds and the eggs for the reason that I think it is easier for the authorities to administer and easier for the general public to understand.
1489 Under the present position bird nesting in regard to a large number of common birds is almost completely prohibited and a criminal offence, which I think is another reason why it is very much easier to have shorter lists with certain unprotected common birds' eggs than a great list of kinds of eggs which must be protected, as, for instance, in Inverness, for which I have three whole pages of closely written typescript giving examples. In the past, the authorities no doubt have winked at children breaking the law on bird nesting, but I submit that we cannot frame a law which Parliament intends should be evaded, because that brings justice into contempt. That is why I hope there will be a great deal of compromise and understanding on this issue.
Clause 3 preserves the existing arrangements regarding bird sanctuaries. It also provides for the creation of new sanctuaries by the Secretary of State. When I say the Secretary of State, of course I include the Secretary of State for Scotland. But this can only be done with the consent of the owner or occupier of the land, and the rights of such a person will also be protected, even after the creation of such sanctuaries.
Clause 4 provides certain other general exceptions. These are mainly in favour of agriculture and horticulture, with the purpose of controlling pests, diseases and serious damage by birds. It is also laid down in this Clause that it is not an offence to catch birds for the purpose of ringing or marking, or to take birds for experiments that are at present allowed under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876.
Clause 5 re-enacts and extends certain existing controls on the methods of taking and killing wild birds which involve cruelty or wholesale destruction. There are three new provisions put forward in this Clause. The first is that the very large punt-gun of over 1¾ inches internal diameter is prohibited and also the repeating shot-gun. Secondly, the catching of birds by artificial light is condemned. Thirdly, the use of nets for taking wild duck in a duck decoy is illegal except for those already in use.
Clause 6 is designed to stop the commercial exploitation of egg collecting and traffic in live or dead birds. It is proposed, firstly, to stop the sale of the wild birds set out in the Fourth Schedule, which is no change in the law; secondly, 1490 all the eggs of British birds, except, hon. Members will be glad to hear, those of gulls for human consumption; thirdly, all dead food birds included in the Third Schedule between 28th February and 31st August—in fact during the close season—except that sales are not to end until three weeks after the main close season starts and one week after foreshore shooting ends. Perhaps I should explain here that it is still possible to purchase birds for cold storage in the open season and sell them in the close season. They can be kept in store and sold in the close season. Fourthly, the sale is forbidden at any time of all other dead wild birds, their skin and plumage.
Clause 7 is complementary to Clause 6. It stops the import of all food birds in the Third Schedule during the entire close season and quail and lapwing eggs are not to be imported at any time. Power is given to the Secretary of State to impose a ban on imports, if necessary. The reason for this is that Britain will be in a position to keep in step with other countries which may wish to preserve a particular species. Clause 8 reenacts existing laws in relation to captive birds.
I should like particularly to call attention to Clauses 9 and 10, because they deal with the powers of the Secretary of State. At present, under the law any changes in the Orders and Schedules or the close season can be made only after an application by the local authorities concerned. Under this Bill, while experience of local knowledge is still available and while local authorities can still put forward their applications, the Secretary of State is also given power to make Orders, vary Schedules or alter the close season. He must, however, first consult the Advisory Committee as well as the local authorities and interested parties. He must publish his intention and he may even order a public inquiry.
I should like to give one example of a particular bird which has been causing a great deal of excitement, our friend the bullfinch. I have not included it among the harmful birds. I rather like the bullfinch, but I quite realise that it does a lot of damage and is a great nuisance in some fruit-growing areas. Therefore, the Secretary of State is given power to make Orders regarding certain counties or areas 1491 where it may be considered a harmful bird, and this is really to give agriculturists a chance to protect their crops.
It may be asked, is it wise to give the Secretary of State so much power? We all know that we have a most benevolent representative of the Home Office sitting on the Front Bench this morning, but there might well be another era when we will find the position very much reversed, and some hon. Members may well wonder whether it is wise to give the Secretary of State so much power. In reply, I would explain that in the past he has had a great deal of power and if we do not give him the opportunity, though with all the safeguards provided in this Bill, to vary a Schedule as may be required, then I think we may reach the impossible situation of having an amending Bill in Parliament every year.
The Secretary of State is also empowered to grant licences to take birds' eggs or their nests for scientific and educational purposes, and for hawking. The Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture can grant licences to farmers, gardeners and other authorised persons who wish to use certain traps, baits or poisons against the harmful birds which are dealt with in the Second Schedule. These licences may have conditions attached to them and, if granted, they can be obtained from local agricultural executive committees. Clause 11 deals with the Advisory Committee for Birds, which is to be made statutory for the first time.
I have already referred to Clause 12, which covers penalties and enforcement, and Clause 13, which deals with the powers of the Secretary of State. The remaining Clauses are self-explanatory and interpretive. I shall not deal with the Schedules in detail because their intention is clear, but I would say that the lists contained in them are purposely short, particularly that contained in the First Schedule, where £25 penalties are involved.
Desires may well be expressed, particularly in Committee, for this bird or that bird to be deleted or added to any Schedule. For instance, I am wondering whether the ruff and the reeve could not be transferred to the Part I of the First Schedule, and whether the brent goose should not have complete protection 1492 as it has now in Scotland. It is also extremely difficult to distinguish between the white-fronted goose and the lesser white-fronted goose, particularly in the air. All these are Committee points, however, and I should naturally be willing to agree to certain alterations in these Schedules.
Apart from the interest and beauty of wild birds, which have given as much to the urban dweller as to the country, we have, over the centuries, shown a growing understanding of the place of the bird in the economy of nature. Experience has taught us that where we disturb the wild bird kingdom too much we court great dangers to our food crops from disease and pests. In presenting this Bill, I am keenly aware of the responsibility that we all have to try to keep the right balance in our natural laws.
This country, standing in the path of the northern migration, has a task to lead in the bird protection laws. What we do may well encourage other countries to do the same. It is not only because of its repercussions on international law, but also because I feel that we really need this Measure, that I have great pleasure in moving the Second Reading.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. South (Lady Tweedsmuir) has given the House a very clear explanation of a very complex Bill. I have spent most of this week—during which I have been suffering from influenza—trying to understand it. It is extremely complicated, but I feel that the whole House, broadly speaking, will welcome the principles contained in it. My only excuse for making a contribution to this Second Reading debate is that, like my hon. Friend, I am an amateur ornithologist, with a very strong emphasis on the "amateur," because I cannot for one moment pretend to be an expert. I hope, however, that I am not a crank. Cranks, very often, are merely enthusiasts. If I am a crank I am several different kinds welded into one.
For many years I have been a member of the Council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. In some ways, therefore, I am a protectionist. At the same time, however, I am a member of the British Field Sports Society. I am 1493 very keen on it, and a very keen shot. Moreover, on two occasions I have collected the skins of birds for the Natural History Museum, so that I do not know whether or not I am a protectionist, but I feel that with this background I can make a broad approach to the principles contained in this Bill.
Another reason why I am glad to speak in this debate is that I feel that we all suffer from too much party politics in too many things, and this seems to be a matter in which we can get right away from them. Birds are no respecters of politicians, perhaps the most outstanding example being the green woodpecker, which preserved its sense of humour through all the years of what hon. Members opposite call Tory misrule, and is still laughing heartily in spite of six years of Socialism.
The basic principle of this Bill, which has been so clearly explained by my hon. Friend, is to give the greatest possible protection to wild birds without interfering with the game laws. My own researches do not seem to have been as efficient as those of my hon. Friend. She found 26 Acts on the subject. I found only 15. She went back to George III. I cannot go back further than 1880, but her researches have no doubt been more efficient than mine. That shows how complicated and difficult to understand has become the legislation on this subject.
In 1880, a curiously haphazard list of birds was drawn up—a list of birds which could not be killed during the nesting season. In 1896, that provision was widened, so that these same birds, with a few additions, could not be killed at all throughout the whole year. In 1913, a Home Office Departmental committee sat and, in spite of the interference of the war, during which it was not able to carry on with its deliberations, it reported in 1919. It produced an excellent report, containing most valuable recommendations, but the basic recommendations were not followed up.
There have been many attempts since then to tidy up the legislation with regard to bird protection. There was the 1933 Act, which had some very valuable points, and in 1923 a Private Bill, was presented in another place by Lord Grey, a very great expert on birds. There was also a Private Member's Bill in this 1494 House, in 1927. In spite of that, the basic principles contained in this Bill, which were generally thought to be correct, have not yet been incorporated in the law. As a result, it is true to say that the existing legislation is not only bewildering to the public but—and in some ways worse still—bewildering to the courts and the police.
There are three main criticisms which the House should bear in mind in considering this proposed legislation. First, under the law as it stands at present, the penalties for law breaking are completely inadequate, so much so that they are not a real deterrent. The maximum penalty for killing a protected bird or taking a protected egg is £1, and the largest penalty that the court may impose is £5—for five birds and/or eggs. Recent convictions shows just what a strange muddle the law is in. One of the many visitors to this country is the hoopoe. Only two months ago there was a prosecution, when someone was fined 20s. for killing a hoopoe. A week later someone was fined £1 for killing a seagull.
In considering the question of penalties, it is also worth remembering that there is a considerable trade in the skins of birds. A rare bird's skin often fetches £5, and sometimes as much as £15 or £20. Furthermore, egg prices are quite high. I was astonished to discover recently that there is a very considerable trade in common birds' eggs. I know of one case where a dealer in birds' eggs sold between 20,000 and 25,000 lapwings eggs in one year. They were nearly all sold to children, for about 6d. each. That is something which will be stopped if this Bill becomes an Act.
The second main criticism of existing legislation was touched upon by my hon. Friend. It is the variation which exists at present between county and county and also between county borough and county. Birds are no respecters of county boundaries, but the present law assumes interest and considerable knowledge on the part of local authorities. My hon. Friend gave examples to show how widely local authorities vary in this respect. In one area a dozen birds may be protected while in the next area a hundred may be protected. That will seem to all of us completely anomalous.
1495 I should like to give an example to the House, which is rather amusing. I remember about five years ago that on the House of Commons menu we were asked to eat a dish made of "black plover." I had never heard of such a bird and I did not think that there was one. Because I was interested in the subject I inquired of the Kitchen Committee where the birds had come from. I was told that it was from a certain county which happened to have three authorities with bird legislation.
I wrote to each to ask whether the lapwing, which I assumed the bird might be was protected at the time of the year when we were being asked to eat it in the House of Commons Dining Room. Two of the authorities said that the birds were protected for the whole year and the third said that it was not protected. Further investigation, however, convinced me that these birds were, in fact, rooks. I was not able to pursue the matter any further. Another anomaly which is typical of what happens at present arises out of the arrival of the bird called the avocet. It settled in Suffolk. It is a very intelligent bird, because if it had decided to breed in Cambridgeshire it could have been shot. Fortunately, it decided to breed in Suffolk, where it is protected and it has been breeding there successfully in the last three or four years.
The third criticism is the fact that new visitors or very rare visitors to these shores are not protected at all at present. Nobody can anticipate the arrival of birds not seen here before and as a result those birds are not protected. There is a surprising number of very rare birds, some of them new visitors to these shores, who have come here in the last few years. There is not only the avocet but others such as Bonelli's warbler, the Barred warbler—this was shot at Cley and the skin was sold for £5—the Eastern coloured dove, the blue-cheeked bee-eater, the American robin, which was seen for the first time at Lundy Island, in 1952, a very rare kind of shrike, a little egret and a black-tailed godwit.
None of these birds are protected throughout the whole country. That seems a serious criticism of the law as it stands at present. The unfortunate thing is that there are some people who, immediately they see a bird which they do 1496 not recognise, want to shoot it. When I was a small boy, and was interested in watching birds, I was thrilled one day to see my father's gardener running down the drive and saying he had seen a brilliant coloured bird which he had not seen in his life before. I ran back to the house with the abject of getting a pair of glasses to see it, but the gardener said, "It is no good because it has flown away. I missed it." I said, "What do you mean by 'missed it'?" He replied, "I tried to shoot it. I had never seen it before." That is typical of an attitude which is widespread among some people. It is something which I am sure we all deplore.
The need for new legislation is very real indeed and we can all agree with my hon. Friend that many of our neighbouring countries of Europe and other parts of the world have much more advanced legislation on this subject than we have. Because there was this need for new legislation the Home Office appointed in March, 1948, the Ilchester Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Ilchester and a Scottish Committee, first under Sir Hugh Gladstone and later under Professor Ritchie. These Committees made recommendations on which we are told the present proposed legislation is based. They reported to the Home Office in September, 1951, and I am sure that we would wish to thank them for the excellent work that they have done.
I should like to describe the principle of the new legislation as I see it, so that we can judge to what extent it meets criticism of existing legislation. Broadly speaking, this Bill seeks to protect all birds, their nests and their eggs all the year round, but there are three major exceptions. The first is that there is no protection for game birds or semi-game birds—what one might call "food birds," such as duck, most geese, woodcock and snipe outside the close seasons. The second exception is that the nests and eggs of birds which are on what I call the "black list," those in the Second Schedule, can be destroyed all the year round. Typical examples are the carrion crow, the jay and the wood pigeon, about which none of us would be in any doubt at all. The third exception, which was clearly described by my hon. Friend, is the case of eggs of common wild birds according to a list to be laid down by 1497 the Home Office in the light of advice received from his advisory committees.
§ Major Beamish
That is because they are game birds and this Bill does not deal with birds which are recognised as game birds.
The Bill has only a very slight effect on the game laws in that there are a few exceptions to the close season, which is normally from 1st February to the end of August—exceptions for which there seem to be good reasons. Late breeders such as the woodcock can be shot by sportsmen at different periods. There is also a different date for the beginning of snipe shooting in Scotland. Speaking from memory, I think that it is 12th August instead of 1st September. Generally speaking, however, the Bill has no effect at all on the close season or on game.
There are a few points of special interest in the Bill which no doubt will come up during the Committee stage but which, nevertheless, are of rather broader interest than Committee points. My hon. Friend mentioned that the Bill does not interfere with the sport of falconry. That might appear to be inconsistent to hon. Members who are diehard protectionists. But I think that that is right. Falconry is a very ancient sport indeed, but it is pursued on an astonishingly small scale. It is a very highly skilled sport. I have checked the figures during the last few days and I find that it is unlikely that there have been more than 30 trained hawks in this country at any time since the end of the war. I find, also, that of the 100 members of the British Falconers' Club only 25 regularly train hawks. They insist that their members should comply with a very strict code of conduct, a copy of which I shall be very glad to show to any hon. Member who is interested.
In falconry, as everyone knows, the quarry is killed by its natural predator in a natural manner and there are no wounded birds. I think I am right in saying that the only sport to which no objection was taken when evidence was given before the committee of inquiry into cruelty to wild animals was the sport of falconry. I hope we shall be able to 1498 agree that the sport of falconry shall be able to continue, although it is not possible to train a peregrine not to kill a bird listed in the First Schedule but to kill a bird which is named in the Second Schedule.
I believe that egg collecting should be discouraged by every possible means. I am, none the less, the first to admit that it would be absurd to make a law which meant that every child who went birdnesting and took an egg should be liable to a penalty of £5, or, if the bird came under the First Schedule, of £25. It is a very difficult problem. Egg collecting is purely destructive and in every way unscientific and ought to be discouraged in every way. As my hon. Friend said, this is largely a matter of education and trying to find a means of meeting a very difficult problem. I think the solution proposed is a sensible one and a thoroughly good compromise. I hope we may be able to agree in Committee that that is the case.
There is a very important principle embodied in the Schedules and we should bear it in mind the whole time when we are discussing them later. I have no doubt that many hon. Members will have a favourite bird which they want moved from one Schedule to another, because they like its colour or for some other reason. I hope we shall bear in mind all the time that the idea of the First Schedule is that it should only include really rare birds. I believe that the whole effectiveness of this Schedule and the increased penalties involved for law breaking would be seriously weakened if we moved favourite birds into the First Schedule. The suggestion was made recently that the kingfisher should come into the First Schedule. That is not a rare bird; it is much more common than many hon. Members who have not had opportunity of watching rare birds may realise. It would be a mistake to put such birds in this Schedule because that would weaken the principle by which only rare birds are included in it. I hope we shall all agree about that.
A point arises in relation to Part II of the First Schedule. There are two birds, the grey lag goose and the whimbrel which might very well be in Part I. But there is a powerful reason why they should not be in Part I. As most hon. Members who know these birds will 1499 realise, the whimbrel is almost impossible to distinguish from the curlew, unless it calls. It is quite impossible for a sportsman to know that he is shooting a curlew and not, in fact, a whimbrel. In the same way, the grey lag goose is not easy to distinguish at dusk or dawn from certain other kinds of geese. Although some may like to see the grey lag goose in Part I of the First Schedule, the fact that it is so difficult to distinguish from other geese seems a good reason why we should not create unnecessary difficulties by making it illegal to shoot it at all times.
In commenting on the Second Schedule I may be falling into a trap about which I have been warning hon. Members, but in Committee I should like to come to the defence of the little owl. Opinions about the little owl are very much divided. I have done some research and find that the only scientific inquiry into the food of the little owl has been conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology and shows fairly conclusively that this bird does more good than harm. That may be wrong, but it is one of the things we shall have to decide later. We may also find ourselves arguing later about the rook. I am doubtful whether it is such a wicked bird that it should be in the Second Schedule. I know that some farmers regard it as a friend and others as a deadly enemy. I do not know the answer to that.
In the Third Schedule we may be able to agree to delete the dunlin because it is very hard to distinguish from other birds, such as the stint, when it is in winter plumage. In any case, it is a small bird, which is hardly worth eating, and weighs only anounce or two, like the lark. The Fourth Schedule, I believe, is taken direct from the 1933 Act and is concerned with birds which may not be sold alive. There is an important exception. I think I am right in saying that the Home Secretary did not have power under the 1933 Act to add to the list, whereas now he is given that power, which I think is probably a good thing.
Before leaving the question of individual birds, I would remind the House that it is mistaken to think that gulls have been decreasing throughout the United Kingdom. On the whole, they seem to have been increasing without any doubt. One fortunate thing about the gull is that he is an extraordinarily good egg 1500 layer—[An HON. MEMBER: "She is."]—and seems to raise much less exception to having eggs stolen than most other birds do. She immediately gets in action again and lays another egg. Although it might seem a little inconsistent with the main principle of the Bill, it is sensible that the sale of gulls' eggs for human consumption should not be prevented. I do not see anything wrong in that.
I wonder whether the penalties in the Bill are heavy enough. I am not sure about this and I should like to think about it and hear the views of hon. Members. I wonder whether people who deliberately break the law and go out with the specific object of shooting rare birds—the kind of hardened criminal who indulges in these things, because it really is a criminal thing—would find £25 a heavy penalty. I have no very strong feelings on the subject, but it is possible that a heavier fine might be considered.
I am not entirely happy about a point which arises out of the Clause 10 giving the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland power to licence people to trap, kill, or catch birds by means of poison or a stupefying bait. It may be a repetition of existing legislation, but I cannot think how it is possible to use a poison which will kill a carrion crow but will not kill other birds one does not want to kill. Perhaps we should think about those powers again. Most people believe that foot-and-mouth disease is carried by birds and it may become so widespread and destructive that we might have to consider killing certain birds. But to give such widespread powers to a Minister for the use of poison which cannot be controlled and is in no way selective, at least needs thinking about again. I do not go further than that.
I conclude by saying that I know my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South and all those responsible and who take an interest in the Bill are extremely anxious to meet in Committee all reasonable views of hon. Members or organisations who wish to put information before us, to try to find a happy compromise. I am quite confident that the basic principle of the Bill is good. It ought to be acceptable to all of us in this House. I feel sure that during the course of the Committee stage we shall 1501 be able to have really interesting discussions and make considerable improvements in the Bill, which I already regard as a good one.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
All of us will congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on introducing this Bill. It is a Bill which meets the desires of everybody who is in any way interested in wild life. I cannot claim to have any special knowledge of the subject or to be in any way an expert but perhaps I represent, therefore, many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the people of Great Britain for whom bird life has a fascination.
I represent, of course, the constituency of Falmouth and Camborne in Cornwall, and Cornwall and the Scilly Islands must be considered together when we think of this Bill as its affects my part of the world. I should like to refer first to one or two points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) about the avocet breeding in Suffolk. I am pleased to say that the avocet also visits us in Cornwall, and the blue-cheeked bee-eater visited the Scilly Islands two years ago.
So far as the jay is concerned, I should be very reluctant to see one shot. One sees the bird so rarely, and I think that one of the greatest pleasures I had in coming to London to work here was to see the jay in St. James's Park. I should hate to think that anybody had the right to shoot it there. As has been said, we may have to give concessions to get the Bill through.
In Cornwall, we have hundreds of miles of coastline, and we are fortunate in having the land birds and the sea birds. The rugged cliffs of the north coast of Cornwall provide ideal spots for nesting sites and places where the birds can come—rare visitors, perhaps—without interference.
I was fortunate enough last year to see the peregrine stoop at a raven four times, and that on cliffs only four miles from where I live, and I live in the biggest urban district in the county. There are also uninhabited islands and islets of the Scillies where bird life is abundant and is really quite a special feature not 1502 only of Cornwall and the West of England but of Great Britain also. I may have something more to say about that later.
We also have in Cornwall the Walmsley Bird Sanctuary half-way up the north coast. That is a very fine sanctuary which has been provided in recent years through the instrumentality of the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society. That society has performed a wonderful work during the last 23 years, and its annual reports—I have here the report for last year—provide a mine of useful information. I am a member of the society, and I think I never derive greater pleasure than I do on the night when I receive a fresh report of the Bird Watching and Preservation Society. At the moment there are nearly 600 members in the society.
If I may digress for one moment, I would say that this society has done an enormous amount for bird lovers and for ornithology generally in the last quarter of a century. I recall, however, that at the beginning of the century we had in Cornwall many keen field botanists and that one of them, a mine clerk, produced a splendid work on Cornwall in Davey's "Cornish Flora" in 1910. Yet in spite of the fact that we have now had 40 years of county secondary education the Nature Conservancy has to go to people in London to get advice on botany and botanical areas in the County of Cornwall. I hope that what I say here may re-echo back to my own county and that possibly some secondary modern school will take up this branch of study, helped, perhaps, by the Royal Institution of Cornwall.
One bird to which I should like to refer is the Cornish chough, which, as most people know, is almost extinct. I wish to quote from what is practically a standard work on bird life in Cornwall, published by Colonel Ryves a year or two ago. He writes:Now let me turn to those aspects of the matter which give real cause for alarm and concern.This is in regard to the chough.Firstly—the gin trap, that diabolical instrument of torture and death, blot on civilisation, and slayer of innocent creatures.I feel very strongly also about the need to preserve our cliff paths and not 1503 to plough the land right up to the edge of the cliffs where that has not already been done, because there is a distinct flora, particularly on our North coast, and there is our bird life. Undoubtedly the Cornish chough, which in certain places was fairly common even less than 40 years ago, is now confined to just a few breeding places. I attribute this to the gin trap, and one of the excuses which the farming community brings forward for the use of the gin trap is that the rabbits have their burrows in the cliffs and cannot be got at in any other way. My suggestion is that the farmers should not, therefore, plough up to the cliff edge.
I give a great welcome to the Bill, as does the Cornish Bird Watching and Preservation Society. We have followed with interest the Bill introduced in another place by Lord Temple wood and have noticed that there are 99 items in the marshalled Amendments which their Lordships are now considering. We hope that there will in due course be a marriage of these two Bills and that the twain shall become one flesh.
Sir Edward Bolitho, who was Chairman of the Cornwall County Council until recently, was the representative of the County Councils' Association on the Wild Birds Advisory Committee. I am sorry that its report to the Home Secretary in 1951 has never been published.
We are also fortunate in Cornwall in having great support from the local newspapers, particularly the "Western Morning News" at Plymouth, which gives support not only to bird watching society activities but to nature activities of all kinds. We also have our local newspapers, and the editor of the "Cornishman" of Penzance, Mr. Palmer, is an expert ornithologist and has just published a monograph on the Cornish chough.
We have to take into account the changing conditions of today. On the whole, there is probably less cruelty than there was when I was a boy, and less wanton destruction, but we are coming up against other dangers perhaps. I have noticed that at times the hedgerows have been burnt by the flame-throwers of the highway authorities. I am told also that they are now using weed killers wholesale on the roadsides. It would seem to me 1504 that grave danger both for plants and bird life will result. There is also, of course, the pollution of our seas, beaches and coastline by oil residue, and something must be done about that. We shall have to take steps to see that the negotiations proceeding at an international level are not too protracted to deny us some remedy soon.
I wish to make some detailed comments about the Bill, I will not call them criticisms. There are some things which we should consider, and if they are on the record now perhaps they will be in the minds of the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South and the sponsors of the Bill when we discuss it in Committee after it has received a Second Reading—because I am confident that this House will give a Second Reading to this Bill. I am glad to see that the word "noxious" is omitted from the Second Schedule. It appeared in a Bill brought before another place, and although the word may not mean a lot, it could have a great psychological effect.
I am glad that the bullfinch has been excluded from the Schedule. In any case, in Cornwall it is a comparative rarity, and I have been privileged to see it on very few occasions. I presume that the power to vary the Schedule from time to time, which will be given to the Home Secretary under this Bill when it becomes an Act, would enable him to put a bird on the unprotected list in those fruit-growing areas where perhaps it is a pest. I am glad that nature conservancy is recognised in this Bill, as it was not referred to in another place.
Clause 3 (3) refers to the keeping in force of local orders in the interim period before the provisions of this Bill can be put into operation. I take it that local orders will continue until such time as the powers given under this Bill become operative.
Clause 9 (1) states that an order may be made,either generally or with respect to any specified part of Great Britain….I hope the expression "specified part" means a part of an administrative area, so that we in Cornwall will not be denied protection in one part because it is not needed for the whole county.
There are several points which have been put to me by the Cornwall Bird 1505 Watching and Preservation Society. Clause 1, which deals with the protection of wild birds and their nests and eggs, states, "If any person…" but provision is made only for the liability of the actual agent. Would it not be worth while to add aftertakes or destroys an egg of any wild birdthe words:procures or incites another to do sobecause someone may get an agent to do this? I appreciate that these are Committee points, but perhaps they are worthy of consideration. Clause 1 (b) refers to…the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in useIt is probable that the nest can only be held in law to be in use when the first egg is about to be laid or has been laid, and I think this should be amplified. In Clause 4 (2, c) only the liability of the actual agent is apparently meant and a person doing the "mercy killing" might be a party to the original disabling by another person. It has been suggested to me by the Society that we might add the words:otherwise than by his act or the act of another to which he was a party.I think that Clause 4 (2, a) needs tightening, because it may be difficult to prove that a person has been doing serious damage. Reference has been made to the gulls' eggs and to the fact that they are used for human consumption. But in the remoter parts of the Scilly Isles, gulls' eggs are used to eke out poultry food, and that may be a point to be taken into account in Committee. Perhaps the word "consumption" might be changed to "use."
Clause 6 (1) refers to restrictions on the sale of live and dead wild birds and eggs, etc., and there the common gull should be omitted. It is a very local breeding species in this country. Subsection (2) refers to the granting of search warrants:to any constable or…to any duly authorised officer…The Society feel very strongly on general grounds that no one other than the police should be granted a search warrant.
Clause 7 deals with restrictions on the importation of certain wild birds and eggs, and subsection (1, c) refers tothe eggs of any lapwing.1506 In view of the very considerable traffic in English killed lapwings—which are always stated to be of Irish origin—the Society would like to see this loophole securely closed by amending the wording to read,any lapwing or eggs thereof.Regarding the Advisory Committee on wild birds, the Society would like the number of members specified, and the representation of interested parties, and compulsory retirement of members after five years. On the question of penalties, I feel, as the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) has suggested, that the penalty of £25 is hardly sufficient to deal with the type of person with whom it is intended to deal, the wealthy collector of rare eggs. I presume that the Bill would cover a maximum penalty for each egg, and I should like to see the fine raised to £50.
The Clause dealing with the forfeiture of decoy birds and apparatus needs strengthening, as the purpose of such equipment is clear, but I will not go further into that matter now. The Society would like it made clear that the Measure applies to the whole of the Scilly Isles. I am not a lawyer and I am not sure if they would be covered. Perhaps that matter might be considered before the Committee stage.
I hope to be able myself to bring forward some Amendments in Committee. Some of my points today have been made on my own responsibility, particularly with regard to increasing the penalty to £50. Others are the suggestions of the Cornwall Society, which is a representative body of expert ornithologists, or at least the members of the committee are, and what they say should be treated with respect.
There are certain affinities between Scotland and Cornwall. We share the same difficulties about television and we are both Celtic countries. In recent years we have had in Cornwall a visitor from Scotland in the fulmar petrel. I was privileged to see some of the chicks which came from the first eggs hatched in Cornwall a few years ago.
I congratulate the noble Lady on bringing forward this complicated Bill. She will have a difficult time steering it through the Committee. I hope that she will receive the full sympathy and co-operation of the Secretary of State and the 1507 Under-Secretary of State and that, if necessary, the Government will provide facilities for getting the Bill through the House this Session.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
It may seem unnecessary for me to say anything more about this Measure after the comprehensive and persuasive speech of my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) which was amplified in what was a most erudite and informed contribution by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish). I wanted to take part in this debate for many reasons, including three special ones. First, I wanted to take part because of my nostalgic regret that if the Bill is passed into law it will mean the sacrifice of two of my own offspring—the Quail Protection Act, 1937, and the Wild Birds (Duck and Geese) Protection Act, 1939. I have a paternal desire to share in their obsequies.
My second reason is because of my lifelong interest in birds. I cannot think of any more fascinating interest for an ageing, tired or unwanted politician than bird watching. As those adjectives do not apply to anyone present in this House, I shall not pursue that matter further. The third reason is that it is peculiarly appropriate that the hon. Lady should follow in the steps of my very dear friend, John Buchan, her husband's father, who just 20 years ago, in November, 1933, introduced and had passed one of the predecessors of this Bill. For that reason, if for no other, I hope that this Bill will safely evade any bullets that may be fired at it.
Many opinions have been expressed about what the Bill seeks to do. First, I take it that it is intended to consolidate, clarify and amplify all existing bird legislation. Secondly, it is for the purpose of safeguarding these loveliest members of our animal world. Thirdly, it is designed to protect them from unnecessary or avoidable suffering during their brief life.
How does the Bill propose to carry out these purposes? The Clauses, as they have been explained by my two hon. Friends, tell us that story. This is a comprehensive Measure. It is a complicated and also a somewhat drastic 1508 piece of legislation. First, it demands the sacrifice and death of 26 other quite estimable Acts of Parliament. For those of us who, like the late Lord Banbury, believe that all legislation is bad, that may be an appealing motive for passing the Bill. But it does a lot more than that.
Though I ardently support the general principles of the Bill I am a little doubtful about some of the details. Of course, those doubts may possibly be satisfied or resolved in Committee, but I should like to stress those features which appeal to me and which, I imagine, will be the features which will appeal to the man in the street who has neither the time, the knowledge or the opportunity to know or examine those rare and beautiful birds which the Bill is designed to protect. Having said that, I would stress one or two of the features about which I am doubtful so that the sponsors may give them further consideration.
The Bill, clearly and without any equivocation, makes sure that all these rare and attractive birds, their nests, and their eggs, shall have a general safeguard against destruction. We all agree that is entirely admirable. Secondly—and in the second part of the First Schedule and also in the Third—I am compensated for the loss of my offspring by the protection of wild duck, wild geese and the others mentioned while mating and breeding. Such protection is essential if our lakes and sanctuaries are not to be deprived of their natural residents. I think that the provision of bird sanctuaries is one of the most desirable features of the Bill. I have always regarded the bird sanctuary as a sort of charter for a free life for birds. The only criticism that I could possibly make of that provision is about the concessions made to owners and tenants of property where a sanctuary is desirable.
I also wish to comment on Clause 5 which, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said, outlaws those specially hateful methods by which no real sportsman would seek to get a bird—by gin, snare, poison, explosive, and so on, and especially artificial light, against which the bird has no chance to use its natural method of escape.
On the question of penalties, I have always thought that if something is 1509 regarded as wrong by the general community the punishment should be so large as to make certain that the offence will not be repeated. I hold that view about all our legislation. If something is wrong we will not stop it by imposing a penalty which can easily be satisfied out of the profits of the transaction. I ask my hon. Friends to consider the question of penalty again, to see whether it can be made more drastic.
I welcome the special powers given to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are all pleased to see the special attention given to the size of cages and the general method of transport of birds which has appalled so many of us, especially as it was seen in Club Row and other places. I am glad, too, that there is a provision for the advisory committees to be made statutory. This is something which has not been included in previous bird legislation. There is no Secretary of State who is perfect and, though I have every confidence in our present Ministers, there comes a time when they have to go. Therefore, the existence of a permanent statutory advisory committee, to ensure that the Secretary of State is properly informed on bird legislation, is essential.
Having expressed my enthusiastic agreement with the general principles and main provisions of the Bill, I come to my one doubt, which concerns the Fourth Schedule. I wonder whether its composition is wise. I may be wrong in my interpretation, but I believe it will be an offence under the Bill for anyone to keep as a pet any bird included in the Schedule. Therefore, these birds cannot be kept even in a well designed aviary, let alone a properly constructed and reasonably sized cage.
I am concerned about what will happen to poor people who are genuine bird lovers. They sometimes tend and care for their bird pets even better than they do their own children. I have been in many modest homes where the bullfinch, the chaffinch and the goldfinch have been made the objects of love, thought and attention. Many of these people live in narrow streets in the towns and have little opportunity of seeing bird life in the countryside like many of us here. These people might suffer under the Schedule. In many of our constituencies, also, there are cage bird societies consisting of people who are ardent bird 1510 lovers. I admit that I do not like their cages—no one could—but that is a matter which this legislation will rectify.
I have been particularly influenced on this subject by reading the Report of Mr. Edwin Montague's Committee of 1919. That noted bird lover reported that the keeping of cage birds provided many town dwellers with innocent solace, amusement and education which his Committee saw no reason to abolish. We all have different views on the point, and I should probably strongly oppose any form of wild bird being kept in any type of cage or other restraint, but I recognise that it would mean a great deal of regret and loss to many people who have not the facilities which some of us enjoy.
§ Sir T. Moore
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will consult the Bill, he will see that it says that the birds in the Schedule shall not be sold. How is a person living in a town to get a bird if he cannot buy it?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
If I might clarify that point, I said in my speech that the Bill re-enacts existing legislation, and, therefore, my hon. Friend is correct.
§ Sir T. Moore
I thought I was correct The Bill does re-enact existing legislation, but twenty years ago I protested on the same lines as I have done today, and I still think there is something in my contention.
When Mr. John Buchan's Bill was going through another place, Lord Buck master, in a noble speech in favour of the Bill, made a rhetorical remark. He asked who could think of caging larks that sang at heaven's gates. But it must be remembered that hawks, too, may linger near heaven's gates and tear the larks to pieces, and it seems to me that a comfortable cage may not be a bad alternative after all.
I have said my say, both adulatory and condemnatory, although the last word 1511 is not really correct for I have not really condemned any part of the Bill. I have merely expressed one doubt. I know that if my hon. Friend can meet the point at a later date she will do so, and if she cannot, I shall accept her judgment as better and more far-sighted than my own. Meanwhile, I wish the Bill gods peed.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Richards (Wrexham)
I am sure that the whole House has been delighted with the reception which the Bill has received, and particularly with the way in which it was presented by the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir).
The Bill is long overdue. Our method of protection so far has been to allow county councils and county boroughs to draw up their own schedules of the birds which they wished to protect. There are several hundred schedules, and, naturally enough, they have contradicted one another hopelessly. We find that certain birds which are protected in one county are not protected in another, which is a hopelessly anomalous position. The Bill attempts to remedy that in a general Clause for the protection of all birds, their nests and their eggs.
There are, inevitably, exceptions, because we are not all agreed about what birds ought to be protected. Consequently, we have several Schedules in which the birds are listed according to the degree of protection which we are prepared to give them. In the First Schedule we have the birds which we are all anxious completely to preserve. No one can quarrel much with the penalties—unless it is that they are too low—which it is suggested shall be imposed upon people who go counter to the intentions of the First Schedule.
My only quarrel with the First Schedule is that, like most people I suppose, I should prefer to include some favourite birds of mine which are excluded. I presume that the Schedule will be subject to revision by the Home Secretary and the advisory committees, and I hope it will be very considerably extended. It has been said that the kingfisher is not included because it is a bird which is fairly generally found. I do not think that that is so. My impression is that in a very short time it might 1512 become extinct in this country. It is not a general bird, but a rare bird. It is a miracle of beauty; anyone who observes it and its ways must marvel at the sight and we ought to attempt most rigidly to preserve it.
There are other birds. For example, I find that the stone curlew is mentioned among those that ought to be preserved. I do not know exactly why the stone curlew has been suggested while the curlew has been omitted. The curlew is a most interesting and lovable bird, and I think we ought to do everything in our power to preserve this unique specimen among the birds that we have in this country. I do not want the stone curlew to be excluded, but I do want the ordinary curlew included.
Then there is a very small bird that was almost wiped out during the very hard frost of 1947. I refer to the long-tailed tit, a beautiful little creature whose nest is one of the most marvellous creations which the eye of man could see. I do not know why this delicate bird—and it is a very delicate bird, which suffers whenever we get a hard winter—should not be included in the list.
I am more dissatisfied still with the Second Schedule, because here we have a great many good old friends which are included and left open to the danger that anyone can destroy them. I admit that among them there are some real scoundrels, like the carrion crow, for example. He is a most interesting bird, however; a most vigilant, wily fellow, and he deserves a great deal more attention than he is receiving.
I am particularly sorry to see the hooded crow in the list of criminals. The hooded crow is a very rare visitor to these islands, but he comes most winters to the eastern parts of the country. The only quarrel I have with him is that I have never heard or found that the hooded crow has ever penetrated as far as the Principality of Wales. He is a most attractive bird. His ways are very much like those of the carrion crow. He visits the eastern parts of the country every winter and provides us with an opportunity of studying what is one of the most wonderfuly things in nature; that is, the relation between the carrion crow, which is a native of our country, and the hooded crow, which visits us only occasionally. 1513 No attempt should be made to destroy the hooded crow; he ought to be preserved and placed in the category of birds to be protected.
I am very much surprised to find that our friend the sparrow is included in the Second Schedule, and I wonder why he should be included. He is a very naughty chap, undoubtedly; he is wily, lives by his wits and forays in company, but he is altogether delightful. In the course of the speech which Lord Templewood made in another place, he read a very interesting letter which he had received from a correspondent somewhere in the Midlands, who said it was broadcast that anybody would be allowed to kill sparrows. The correspondent said that the holocaust in the Midland lanes was terrible, and he regretted very much, as I regret very much, any suggestion that we should allow boys and hooligans of various descriptions to go out to kill the common sparrow.
We ought very humbly to recall what was said by the Master about the sparrow. He said that not one of them should fall to the ground and not be noticed by the Father. That, I think, is a very remarkable phrase—one of the greatest in Holy Writ, in my opinion, because it shows that there are no common things in the mind of the Master Himself. I therefore regret very sincerely that we should regard the common sparrow as being too common to be allowed to exist, and I hope that his name will be deleted from the list of criminals.
Even more do I resent the inclusion of the bullfinch—
§ Mr. Richards
I am very glad to hear that, because, originally, I believe it was included. What possible harm can he do? I believe that he does get into the blossom in April and go in search of the bug of a particular kind of worm, but, if he did not succeed in getting out the worm, that worm would undoubtedly destroy the blossom and the fruit that would otherwise ensue.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, may I clear up what I think is a misunderstanding? The Second Schedule does not allow everybody to kill the common sparrow, but declares specifically that only authorised persons may do so.
§ Mr. Richards
Yes; I am sorry I did not emphasise that point, but the authorised person is a person who will get alicence from the agricultural committee, which is the easiest thing in the world to do. At least, the farmers can make out a case against the sparrows to the agricultural committee, and the result will be the easy granting of many licences to destroy these persevering birds.
Apart from these criticisms regarding the Schedules, which, I hope, will be radically altered in the course of time, I very sincerely welcome the Bill, because I think that, for the first time, we have made a rational approach to this very difficult problem. I quite recognise that there are all kinds of difficulties involved in these proposals, but we ought to be proud that we in this country, at long last, are prepared to do what we can to preserve the birds that give so much delight to so many people.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
May I first of all ask the indulgence of the House, in that I have lost my voice during most of this week? My remarks will be brief and, I hope, not too husky.
I add my congratulations to those which have been offered to my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on the very clear way in which she has put forward and explained her Bill. I do not claim to be an expert ornithologist, but like some other hon. Members I can claim to have taken an interest in birds of all sorts all my life. I have a little first-hand knowledge of birds in England and in Scotland. All those who are interested in birds will, I think, agree with me that any simplification of the law relating to birds will be an improvement, because the law is very complicated.
I would strike one note of regret, although I blame nobody for it. It is difficult for those who are interested in these matters to have two Parliamentary Bills running at the same time, because it makes it a bit difficult to follow what is proposed. I was glad to note from the noble Lady's speech that it is apparently the intention of the promoters of one of the Bills that it should be withdrawn at a fairly early date so that we can concentrate on one Bill. I hope that that will be the case fairly soon. 1515 because it will then be easier for us to understand as we go along.
A brief mention has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) that the Bill does not affect game birds. So far as I know, it does not affect either the eggs of game birds in any way. I am not suggesting that it should do so, but in that respect it would be interesting to note that three birds which used to be called "game" birds are mentioned in the Bill. The first is the quail. I am glad to know that the quail is on the increase in England. My son saw several quail on my farm in Wiltshire this summer. I am sure that no sportsman would wish to see quail unprotected at the moment, and would like them to increase further. The landrail or corncrake used to be regarded as a game bird but is in very short supply. No true sportsman would like to see this bird unprotected in future, at any rate until its numbers increase further. Likewise with the bustard, which most people consider to be extinct in England. I should like to report that there have been three lesser bustards in my constituency since the war. I will not give the exact location, and I did not see them myself, but I have had it on reliable authority that they were there for some six weeks.
The osprey is a bird which many people think is very rare, but this summer over some water just about half a mile from my own house in Wiltshire we had an osprey, and the summer before last for close on five months I watched an osprey closely myself. It is a lovely bird. We thought we saw it again in the distance this summer, but we could not confirm it. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) referred to the peregrine, which is in a different category in that it is a villainous bird that will attack others, although it certainly is a lovely one. I welcome the fact, of which I was told last year, that a peregrine came back to try to find her nest on the pinnacle on the rebuilt top of Salisbury Cathedral for the first time for some years, a fact which is very interesting.
The Bill, as the noble Lady explained it means that all birds' eggs are protected. It remains for the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland to give a list of eggs which are not to be 1516 protected in future. As the noble Lady said, that will make it possible for small boys not to be prosecuted for taking eggs. I do not think any law could be enforced to that end, and it would not be desirable. It also makes it possible for gulls' eggs to be eaten, which is desirable. I agree with the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne that these eggs also make useful chicken food in some instances. Before the House parts with the Bill I hope that the Home Secretary will give us a list of these birds, so that we shall not pass something in the dark and shall know how we stand.
The wild fowler has been mentioned. I would put in a plea here, because the wild fowler is an energetic man, especially some of the old professional ones who earn their living by wild fowling. I hope that a little discretion will be given in respect of the wild fowler below high water mark in order that he may be able to carry on his sport, and sometimes his profession, up to 21st February. A little give and take in this matter would be fair.
The Bill refers to bird sanctuaries. In theory they make a complete resting place for birds, but they also attract the collector and the poacher because they are known to be the home of birds. There is a danger there, not only within the sanctuary but around it. While complete quiet is desirable for birds in their nests in theory, I am told, although I have not been able to prove it, that at London Airport this year for the first time 54 brace of partridge have been shot. This shows that mechanical noise does not necessarily affect nesting birds.
The question of penalties can be safely left to discussion in Committee and I hope that we shall have ample time there. Obviously hon. Members have varying views about small points which will make the Bill better. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne referred to the jay, and I would not agree with him about it. The jay is a bad stealer of all sorts of eggs. He spoke of the chough as nearly extinct in Cornwall. To give him comfort, I happened to be sitting on top of a hill in Scotland only last summer. The mist had been down and when the mist cleared I thought that all around me were jackdaws, but they were some 35 chough, which is not uninteresting. 1517 The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) spoke of the stone curlew, whose other names are the "goggle eye" and "Norfolk plover." These are rare. But the curlew is a more common bird and is in large numbers in many places.
On the hooded crow, I beg to differ with the hon. Member. I have seen the hooded crow attack not only a dead sheep on her back, but live sheep, and pick their eyes from them. I cannot agree that the hooded crow is a harmless bird. It is found in very considerable quantities in the North and in Scotland, although I am glad to know not in his part of Wales.
In respect of wild fowl there are one or two Amendments which we might consider in Committee. There is one, for instance, in regard to the woodcock, and I hope that there will be a little earlier lifting of protection at the beginning of the season. I am very glad to know that the brintgoose is to be protected in Scotland. It certainly is a species which has declined very seriously, although that may be due to a change in the Gulf Stream and the change in the locality of the short strip seaweed and zostragrass. I think that it is right that in Scotland they should be protected.
In regard to the bernicle goose, I understand that the idea of protecting it comes from the Solway where for various local reasons, including concrete roads down to the shore as a result of old camps, it may have slightly decreased, but in all other parts of the West of Scotland it has increased in my lifetime some six times. Here opinion has changed, and I hope it will not be totally protected.
I do not want to take up more time, except to say that I hope that in Committee we shall come to a satisfactory arrangement, and that the noble Lady will have proved that she has put to the House, like her late father-in-law, a very useful Bill.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) informed the House when he began his speech that he had lost his voice. If that is so, I should like to hear the hon. Gentleman when he finds it.
I should like to join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in paying 1518 tribute to the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for the manner in which she introduced her Bill, for the choice of her subject and for the contents of the Measure itself. I believe that the noble Lady has rendered a single public service by using this opportunity of presenting the House with a Bill of this character.
I am in my ninth year in this House and this will be the second occasion, to my surprise, when I have agreed with every word uttered by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish). I am sorry that at the moment he is not here, but I appreciate the points which he made in his speech. Unlike him, I cannot boast that I am a good shot. I am not a shot at all in that sense, but I trust that I am average among British people in the way I respond to a speech of that kind. I believe that the instincts of the British people are every time in support of a Measure to protect wild life, to avoid cruelty and to maintain those things which are characteristic of that life.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), in his delightful speech to us this morning, revealed a love of bird life which is shared by many people. In the Principality of Wales we indeed give sanctuary to some birds which are amongst the rarest found in these islands. The coastline of Wales, the rugged nature of part of our territory, the wooded nature of our valleys, all tend to provide a harbour for some rare types of birds that are in danger of disappearing. I am informed that 40 years ago, when the red kite was on the verge of extinction, public-spirited people in the Principality got together and decided to use both their money and their time to help protect this bird. Today Central Wales is the last refuge of the red kite in this country. I am grateful that by this Bill this bird will stand a better chance of maintaining its existence here and of adding its little mite of colour to the life of these islands.
There has been a good deal of talk this morning of the penalties necessary to enforce the law. It is a poor Measure that will function only when the emphasis is on the penalties. I am quite sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that respect for the law is not dependent on the penalties that the law imposes. I feel that the schools and the 1519 Press could do a great deal to help to create the right spirit for the operation of this Measure introduced by the noble Lady.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Gentleman does not mean penalties for those who obey the law but for those who disobey it.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Member, if he had waited, would have heard me seek to make the point that we would have fewer people liable to these penalties if we could create in the younger generation the respect and, indeed, the affection for bird life which was revealed by the mover and the seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill and which, I trust, will be revealed by the entire House giving it a Second Reading. If we can get the next generation to feel regard for wild life, we shall be much more successful than if we look to the policeman to protect wild life.
Recently the "Western Mail" has been publishing some pictures of bird life, and my hon. Friends will, I am sure, have watched with special interest some remarkable close-ups. I feel that that is one way in which public interest can be created and a public feeling of trusteeship in this regard be established. In by humble opinion, it is one of the marks of a civilised people that they will go out of their way to protect the innocent, harmless creatures of nature which cannot protect themselves.
During recent years, we have seen the habitat of many of these birds change. There have been tremendous moves into the countryside by the urban population. During the stay at the Ministry of Health of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) we saw, and again under the present Minister of Health we are seeing, great acreages taken over for the development of houses and woodlands destroyed. Birds are having to move to other areas. I earnestly hope that the Government and the Opposition Front Bench will lend their support to this Measure, because otherwise there is a danger of this island losing those graceful appendages which Nature intended it to enjoy. I warmly support the Bill.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I do not wish in any way to curtail this debate, but it might assist the House if I intervene now to refer briefly to the history of the Bill and to draw attention to its principal features as the Government see them and to explain the Government's attitude to the Bill.
For many years, everyone who has been interested in this subject has deplored the confused and inadequate state of the law relating to wild birds. I think everyone has agreed—certainly, there has been complete agreement here to-day—that a new Act in this connection was badly needed. It was for that reason that the English and Scottish advisory committees were reconstituted some five or six years ago. As a result of the work of those committees, the outline of a Bill was produced two years ago. There was a great deal of discussion between the committees, the Home Office and the Scottish Home Department about the final form that the Bill should take. It would be right if I expressed the gratitude of the Government to all who have co-operated to bring the Bill into being.
It is proper that I should tell the House quite candidly the part that the Government have played in bringing about the Bill, both in the discussions leading up to it and in its preparation; I am sure that my hon. Friend the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) would agree that I should do so. It is no secret that the Government themselves would have been glad to have introduced such a Bill as this if Parliamentary time had permitted; but I should like to say how glad the Government are that my noble Friend has seen fit—to use, perhaps, an appropriate metaphor—to take the Bill under her wing. I congratulate her on a speech as graceful as the subject matter of the Bill. Indeed, I am sure that I am only voicing the opinion of everyone in the House in saying that all the speeches on the Bill have been admirable.
In some respects there is a considerable advantage in having a Bill such as this sponsored by a Private Member, rather than by the Government. There are many aspects of the Bill which are better dealt with in the kind of free debate which a Private Member's Bill engenders than in 1521 the atmosphere of a Bill introduced by the Government of the day.
The Bill itself, although by no means free from complication, greatly simplifies the law. Hon. Members will see from the Sixth Schedule that 26 existing Acts will be repealed in whole or in part. Those Acts, although numerous and extremely complicated, give only a limited degree of general protection to wild birds, and the real measure of protection that has been enjoyed has been by virtue of the power given to add local orders.
The result of dealing with the matter in that way has been to produce the maximum amount of confusion and complexity, for which the Bill substitutes a simple general principle of universal protection, subject to the necessary exceptions which must be made. But the advantage of dealing with the Bill in this way is not only the advantage of clarification. There is also the advantage, to which a number of hon. Members have referred, that it will give a large measure of uniformity in this matter. At present, every county and county borough has its own wild bird protection order, and the variation between those orders—my noble Friend mentioned some, and others have been referred to—is quite endless.
The Bill approaches the problem on national lines. It empowers the Home Secretary to make changes on a national basis in such matters as varying the close season or the lists of birds placed in the various categories set out in the Schedules—those which are harmful, and so on. It may be necessary to have the help of orders, but the Bill enables the matter to be dealt with on a national basis.
Birds, of course, pay no heed to local government boundaries, and everyone in the debate has agreed that it is necessary to deal with this matter in a reasonably broad way. But that is not to say that there are not special local cases and special local circumstances. The bullfinch has been mentioned a number of times. The bullfinch is not included in the Second Schedule to the Bill; it is not exhibited in the "rogues' gallery." On the other hand, there are parts of the country—the fruit growing areas—where it will certainly be essential to take drastic steps against the bullfinch. Although the approach is national, the Bill does 1522 not disregard the need for local variations and my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to deal with this matter under the powers contained in the Bill.
As I have said, the Home Secretary can make local orders. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) asked whether the expression "specified part" might be confined to particular local government areas. I assure him that it is entirely general in its terms and that it could be any part of the country with overlapping local government areas. The Bill goes further than enabling the Home Secretary to make local orders. Local authorities will have the right to approach the Home Secretary and ask him to make an order in appropriate cases. In this way, the Bill will give a broader protection to wild birds than has hitherto existed, and at the same time will give a much greater degree of flexibility. That is dealt with by Clauses 1 and 2.
There are, of course, important supplementary provisions dealing, for example, with the prohibition of particular methods of catching birds and the sale and importation of birds and birds' eggs. The present Acts contain a whole medley of provisions in this connection. The Bill amends those Acts, extends them and brings them together. I think that that is the right way of dealing with the matter.
There has been some criticism, although there was not much criticism in the House this morning, that the Bill is too ambitious and that a complete Measure of consolidation of this kind is not really necessary. I ask the House to consider what would be the alternative. It would mean piecemeal legislation by reference with a view to a consolidating Measure later. If the particular provisions of the Bill are considered, I think it will be found that very few of them indeed are purely of a consolidating nature. They almost all alter the law in some respects, and if we were to have a Bill now largely by reference it would only increase the confusion that already exists.
The main exceptions to the broad principle of the Bill will be for three main purposes. First, for the protection of agriculture; secondly, to meet the reasonable needs of sportsmen; and, thirdly, 1523 to exclude from protection the eggs not only of the harmful birds set out in the Second Schedule, but those of a number of common birds as well.
A good deal of reference has been made during the course of the debate to Clause 2 (4) of the Bill, which enables the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland to specify, by order, the common birds whose eggs will not be within the general prohibition. This last exception will clearly be more controversial than either of the other two, but it is of very great importance.
I think the House will agree that the general protection of birds is right, and everyone is agreed that no bird, unless it is a pest while it is alive or valuable as food when it is dead, should be wantonly destroyed. I recognise the merits of applying that same comprehensive principle in the case of eggs. I recognise that strong arguments for doing so can be put forward, and, indeed, they have been advanced this morning: let me say quite candidly that the advisory committees were in favour of applying that principle. I think, however, that there are three serious objections to the prohibition of birdnesting, and I must say here today that in our view those objections are insuperable.
In the first place, the prohibition would apply largely to children, and I think it is hard to justify creating an offence, the main impact of which would essentially be upon children, especially when the activity concerned is as harmless as birdnesting. Secondly, I think there is a large element of reasonable opinion in the country which would regard the prohibition of birdnesting as unnecessary and crankish in itself. The result of any large measure of opinion of that kind would mean that the law would not be fully enforced, and that would bring not only this particular aspect of the Bill into contempt, but would tend to bring the whole of the Bill into contempt and that would be wrong.
I personally believe that there is a very great deal of difference between killing a bird and taking a bird's egg, and I believe that that view is held generally in the House. I do not think it is right, in principle, to make birdnesting a crime, and I believe that that will be the overwhelming view of hon. Members and of the country.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
Surely the Bill does make birdnesting a crime except in the case of birds listed in the various Schedules.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
When I say birdnesting I mean what is called birdnesting in common parlance, namely, the pursuit of eggs in an innocent way by children and others. It has been argued, and I think quite rightly so, that any law to make birdnesting a crime would not be strictly enforced, and it is certainly not right to invite the House to pass laws with the intention that that should be so.
The protection of eggs is advocated to meet two sorts of mischief. First of all, there are the depredations by collectors of rarities; and, secondly, the depredations by young hooligans. The Bill deals effectively with the depredations by collectors of rarities. In the first place, it imposes effective penalties against the taking of rare eggs. Hon. Members have stated that the penalties are not adequate, that these eggs sometimes command a very substantial price, and that the amount of fine is not adequate.
I would point out to the House that the penalty in this case includes imprisonment of not less than one month for the first offence; and, secondly, that the Bill prohibits the sale of the eggs of all species of birds with the exception of gulls. The prohibition of sale will, I think, more effectively check the depredations of collectors than anything else.
The other problem, that of the depredations by hooligans, is entirely different. It is one which, I think, should not be dealt with by creating offences at all but in the other ways that have been suggested during the course of the debate: not by resorting to the criminal law, but by other means which are outside the scope of this Bill. If the Bill becomes law in its present form, the Government are willing to exercise the power to make lists of birds whose eggs are outside the scope of the Bill, and, therefore, subject to birdnesting.
I cannot say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), what will be included in the list. Of necessity, there will be discussions after the Bill becomes law, but I cannot say what it would be appropriate to include.
§ Mr. J. Morrison
Would my hon. Friend be kind enough to give us the list before this Bill leaves the House, otherwise, as was said by an hon. Member opposite, all birds eggs will be protected except those in the Second Schedule.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I cannot hold out hope that it will be possible to provide the list. Discussions will have to take place, and it would be difficult to have discussions until the Bill finds its place on the Statute Book. I will consider what my hon. Friend says, but all I can say is this, the list will consist of birds whose eggs are commonly found and which can easily survive the loss which would result and has resulted for centuries past from the process of birdnesting.
It is true that some of the birds which would be included in that list are now protected by local orders, but I think it is within the common knowledge of hon. Members that where those orders have been too wide they have not been strictly enforced. What is wanted is a list that is realistic and can, therefore, be made really effective. The principle of continuing to protect the eggs of birds whose eggs are at present theoretically protected is, in the view of the Government, less important than the principle of protecting children from criminal proceedings. I want to make it quite clear that the Government's view is that there should be a simple list of familiar birds whose eggs are not protected, and I can indicate that if the Bill becomes law the Home Secretary will be willing to prepare such a list.
Now I want to say a word about the power to set up bird sanctuaries. That power has been criticised on the ground that under it there is a possibility of taking away existing rights, either without the consent of the owner or without compensation, and also on the ground that the power is unnecessary in view of the provisions of the National Parks Act.
A number of sanctuaries have already been established under the Wild Birds Protection Act, and I think that those sanctuaries have the general approval of everybody. Without Clause 3 those sanctuaries would cease to exist, because the Acts upon which they depend would cease to operate under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. Even if there are 1526 sufficient powers in other existing legislation, those powers would not operate as of course, and it would take time to reconstitute the sanctuaries.
The result would be that there would be a gap between the passing of the Bill and the re-establishment of the sanctuaries, and it might take a very long time to take the necessary steps. I am advised that it might even be a matter of years. The provisions of Clause 3 are, therefore, essential to cover that hiatus. The Clause contains ample safeguards protecting the rights of individuals—shooting rights, and so on—and it also contains powers which will be useful in new cases.
The House will see that the Bill gives the Secretary of State very extensive powers. This is absolutely necessary to achieve the degree of flexibility necessary to allow for changes that may take place in the bird population and for desirable local variations. It is important, however, that these powers should be exercised only on the basis of the best available advice. The Bill therefore provides for the appointment of advisory committees, whom the Secretary of State must consult before making an Order.
Since the existing advisory committees were reconstituted after the war—they were first set up more than 30 years ago—there has been a new development of great importance in this field. The Nature Conservancy has been established. As the House knows, this is a national body, under the aegis of the Lord President of the Council, with wide powers and duties under the National Parks Act, and having a duty laid on it by its charter to provide scientific advice on the conservation and control of the natural flora and fauna of Great Britain.
It is obvious that this important body must, in future, be brought prominently into the arrangements for providing advice on the protection of birds. Its position, indeed, is unique and quite distinct from that of the numerous unofficial bodies who are interested in these matters from one point of view or another. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland take the view that it is vitally important that there should be consultation between the Ministers concerned in this matter, and they, for their part will, and they think their successors 1527 in office should—consult the Lord President of the Council as the Minister responsible for the Nature Conservancy, and agree with him on the membership of the advisory committees. In this way we shall be able to ensure that on the scientific side the best and most representative advice is available. In particular, the Conservancy will be invited to appoint appropriate representation on the committees.
It is also important that the matters to be considered by the committees should be properly prepared, and that the committees should have at their disposal the services of scientific staff. The Nature Conservancy will, therefore, be invited to appoint joint secretaries of the committees. This will provide a link with their scientific staff. Further, it is, of course, always open for one Government body which does not agree with another to take the matter to Ministers. Accordingly, neither Secretary of State would act on the advice of his advisory committee without giving an opportunity to the Lord President to make representations in a contrary sense if the Conservancy disagreed with the advice.
In the field of bird protection, however, the scientific point of view is not the only one to be considered. Indeed, a great deal of this Bill is based on a careful balancing of the scientific point of view against the legitimate interests of agriculture and of sports. Accordingly, it is also the intention of the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland that the advisory committees should include adequate representation of other interests, in particular of agriculture, of those interested in wild birds from the sporting point of view, and of local authorities. It is in the Secretary of State's own interest that all the people mainly affected should have an effective opportunity of putting forward their point of view, and the advisory committees will be constituted with that consideration prominently in mind.
The Government give full support to this Bill as it stands. There are certain principles underlying it to which I have referred, and which the Government regard as of great importance. It is right that I should tell the House now that the Government cannot divest themselves of 1528 responsibility for those principles. In particular, we oppose any question of the prohibition of birdnesting; and it is essential to ensure that the interests of agriculture are safeguarded, and that there is a proper balance between the interests of those who are concerned with protecting birds and those who are concerned with sport.
Subject to these general principles, there is a great deal of room for argument, as has been made clear from the debate today. There are many points which we shall have to discuss in Committee. I can say that on those the Government have an open mind, and will seek only to arrive at the conclusion which is most satisfactory to hon. Members. The Bill is essentially a compromise and I think that is both necessary and important. Individually, we may have our own views on particular provisions. We may think very strongly indeed that certain aspects are right or wrong but above all, if we want to see a Bill of this kind become effective as an Act, we must be sure that the result is one that people generally regard as reasonable. The law on this subject can only be enforced by general consent or rather by general approval. The matters dealt with are very often of a very small and trivial character. They may occur far from the eye of a constable or anyone in authority.
If the Bill is to be effective, it is, therefore, most important that the great mass of people should regard it with approval. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House, whatever their views may be on particular points, will approach this matter in a spirit of compromise. I believe from the course of this debate that will be so and I am sure that if we can continue in that way we shall succeed in putting a useful and comprehensive Measure on to the Statute Book.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
It is good to know from the Minister's speech that the Government are not unsympathetic to the Bill and, indeed, not unassociated with it. But it is a Private Member's Bill, which means that we may be able to make minor modifications in it without bringing the Government down, although the prospect of bringing this Government down is not one that daunts my hon. and right hon. Friends.
1529 As one who knows nothing at all about birds, I should like to be associated with the support for this Bill and in the tribute to the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and her hon. Friends who have introduced it. I have been asked by many bird lovers and bird watchers in South Hampshire to support the Bill, and I do so gladly. First of all, what commends the Bill to me in a minor way is that I seem to be able to understand every word of it. which means that I am at last becoming proficient in the esoteric art of reading Parliamentary Bills, or that the Bill sets out its purpose very simply or, and perhaps this is the most likely, that I have missed all the gins and traps and snares in the Bill.
The Bill consolidates a number of existing excellent little Acts of Parliament, but goes further than they did. It is a straightforward attempt to preserve a number of species of birds which are threatened with extinction and to prevent the cruel treatment of any wild bird. It might be called a "Wild Birds' Charter" or a Magna Cart a for a group of birds whose names in the Schedules read like poetry and would have delighted Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Browning—such names as waxwing, wheatear, whinchat, whitethroat. But we ought not to be too sentimental about this Bill. When the barons first secured the Magna Carta, they secured certain basic democratic rights for the barons, but only for the barons. And this Bill secures protection for a number of lordly birds but is also a sentence of death on a number of wild birds.
After having heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) about the crimes of certain gulls, I am not prepared to shed tears over their inclusion in the "black list," but I am doubtful about the sparrows and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) made such an eloquent plea on their behalf. I must confess to ignorance of the virtues and vices of respective birds, but I hope that before the Bill leaves this House the Schedules will be well and carefully drawn and very thoroughly scrutinised.
I quite understand that we should wish to kill the killer-birds which wipe out 1530 other precious kinds of birds and the birds which destroy the food which we need so vitally; but I wonder whether the sparrow is such a criminal. In this Bill all he gets is the doubtful benefit of being protected in certain prescribed areas on Sundays. It seems as though we shall have to teach our sparrows the days of the week and some geography, because we understand from the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South that the prescribed area is Scotland. Apparently there is no close season for sparrows. I can remember what charming things have been said about London sparrows in the blitz and it seems a pity to include them in the black list of villains for which no protection of the law is available.
Do we really mean to outlaw the sparrow and the rook? If we do sentence them to death, can we not make quite sure that the anti-cruelty provisions of this Bill apply to them? We might do it by careful definition of the "authorised persons" who may kill and by laying down methods of killing even the creatures included in the Second Schedule. I welcome the attack which the Bill makes on cruelty, in Clause 5. Some day I hope that we shall have the sense to pass a similar law internationally to prohibit the similar killing of human beings. I think that one part of Clause 5 would make an international charter for human beings if there were substituted for "wild bird" the words "human creature." In such a law we should prohibit the cruel killing of human creatures by…an article…of such a nature…so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any"—human creature—coming in contact therewith, that is to say, any springe, trap, gin, snare, hook and line,…or floating container holding explosives;If we had such a law we might end the atom bomb, the sea mine and the guided missile.
I am glad that the Bill lays a minimum standard for bird cages. Perhaps some day we shall get rid of them altogether, although I think that the country is by no means willing to do that yet. At any rate, we are providing the caged bird with a minimum substandard dwelling, a kind of "people's house" 1531 for birds. I am a little troubled by Clause 12, which prescribes the penalties. The robbing of the wrong kind of bird's nest under this Bill, or the killing of a bird which is listed in one Schedule when the killer thought that the bird was listed in another Schedule, lays that person open to a fine not exceeding £25, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding one month, and for a second offence a fine of £25 or three months' imprisonment or both.
I should like to be assured that these punishments cannot in any case be imposed upon juvenile offenders. The Joint Under-Secretary of State and the noble Lady pleaded for the right of juveniles to rob bird nests, but under this Bill, if I understand it correctly, if they rob the wrong kind of bird nests they become liable to a fine of £25 or a month in gaol. We have still got a lot of education to do amongst youngsters. But I am quite certain that the promoters of the Bill do not envisage sending children to gaol, or fining them £25 for their ignorance of bird law, or of bird lore. Otherwise, before this Bill leaves the House we would have to insert a Seventh Schedule which would read: "Creatures who may be caged for one month during the close season—Children."
I am glad that the Fourth Schedule is in the Bill. This is more or less a recapitulation of a previous list of birds which may not be sold alive in the shops. It may interest the House to remember that a very minor poet, almost a sparrow, in the early days of the 20th Century called attention to this matter even before the first Act made provisions of this kind. Ralph Hodgson said:I saw with open eyesSinging birds sweet,Sold in the shopsFor the people to eat,Sold in the shopsOf Stupidity Street.I saw in a visionThe worm in the wheatAnd in the shops nothingFor people to eat,Nothing for saleIn Stupidity Street.This Bill takes us a little way along the road out of Stupidity Street and I hope it will have the unanimous support of hon. Members of this House.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
As the time is getting on I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on her success in the Ballot and the way in which she used that success in sponsoring this Bill.
I also feel, with other hon. Members, that this is an opportunity to put on a proper footing the mass of legislation—26 Acts—which is not only confused, but is really based on a wrong principle. At present, the law is based on the assumption that magistrates and county councillors, who draw up the lists, and village policemen, are all skilled ornithologists and know all our rare birds by sight. That is not true. I belong to a local authority and I know how difficult it is to recognise rare birds.
The Bill is very timely. I am glad to note that many of the birds we used to consider rare are becoming increasingly common. The bittern and the great crested grebe have been great rarities in my lifetime, but now are not at all uncommon in parts of the country. An ever increasing interest is developing among the public in the whole question of birds and their preservation. I believe that today it would be an easier task to collect money for a home for rare birds than a home for ordinary babies. The public respond in an extraordinary way to anything which has to do with birds.
I had intended to discuss some of the background of bird preservation and the anomalies and difficulties into which one may get. The subject is not at all straightforward, but if this Bill becomes an Act it will iron out many of the difficulties. Much of what I have heard in the debate, particularly from the Joint Under-Secretary of State, has confirmed me in that view. I am glad at the way in which the discussion has gone over the question of birdnesting. I believe that to find a boy guilty of an offence if he takes a thrush's egg would be a mistake. The method and procedure possible under the Bill should get over that difficulty.
I do not think it should be impossible later, when the list of the eggs which can 1533 be taken is published, for coloured sheets picturing those eggs to be printed and put up in police stations, post offices and such places. That would get over the difficulty of recognition from the point of the boy taking the egg and the policeman who may find that the boy has taken the wrong egg.
I hope that during the Committee stage my noble Friend will consider whether the provision for the extension of shore shooting of ducks and geese beyond 1st February should apply to all those birds which I regard as edible birds and which are mentioned in the Third Schedule. I am not sure, from what she said, that she is altogether sympathetic to this view, but, unless that is done, we shall be imposing a rather heavy strain on the conscience and the forefinger of the shore shooter. Shore shooters are worthy of all consideration. They are really good sportsmen. Many of them are prevented by economic circumstances from enjoying any other form of shooting. Their wives are often very grateful for the results of the day's shoot and the addition it makes to the larder.
It is recognised what a pest pigeons and starlings can be in towns. In some cities it is the custom to destroy them by use of an air gun at night, when they are roosting. For that purpose some form of artificial light has to be used. I hope that in Committee a provision will be inserted in the Bill to allow that practice to go on as it is the only way in which pests of this kind can be destroyed in a town where it would be dangerous to use firearms during the day. These birds must be reduced in numbers in the interests of hygiene and I think that that method is the most efficient and probably the most merciful.
I welcome the provisions about the selling of dead game. I hope there will be no relaxation of them. The Secretary of State might consider using his powers to reduce the importation of ducks and geese from abroad. To do so would make it easier to see that the law is scrupulously carried out in this country. It would encourage neighbouring countries and assist them in their efforts to preserve birds, particularly ducks and geese.
I should like the noble Lady to consider whether the goosander should not be included in the Schedule as one of the mischievous birds, if I may use that 1534 term. I think that most fishermen, and there are more than 2 million of them in this country, would support me in that plea. I believe that in the Third Schedule, after teal, there should be inserted "garganey"; that is, to include garganey teal with teal. I believe it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other on the wing, particularly in the half-light of an early morning flight, though when one has them in the hand they are completely different.
I also wish to refer to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) about falconry. I think that the position of falconry is safeguarded. I sincerely hope that it is because, apart from other considerations, besides being probably the oldest form of field sport in this country, and one which was held in far greater preference in the Middle Ages than the use of firearms for killing other birds, I believe it to be not impossible that the use of hawks may be required again in the foreseeable future for keeping down the number of birds around airfields. That was done during the war, and to my knowledge there has been one accident in recent months caused by flocks of starlings on an airfield getting into the air intake of a jet aeroplane.
Finally, I think that whether this Bill will really be efficient or not over a long period depends tremendously on the composition and quality of the advisory committees. I have noted what the Joint Under-Secretary has said. As I understand him, it means that the Nature Conservancy will, as it were, canalise the views of the scientific and, if I may so term them, amenity bodies which are interested in birds, so that their interests and their wishes will be looked after by him.
I would emphasise how important it is that the other members of the committees should represent the views of agriculture, field-sports and all the local authorities, particularly the county councils, and should have every opportunity on the broadest possible basis of representing those other interests so as to balance the set-up of the advisory committees. I feel, Sir, that the first set-up of these committees is of great importance because once they are set up they will probably remain very much the same in composition. A member will retire 1535 and whoever is put in his place will possibly be recommended by the retiring member. So the original set-up is of the utmost importance.
I am sorry for having addressed the House longer than I had intended. I am certain, from what I have heard, that this Bill will get a Second Reading. I believe it to be a very useful Bill, not incapable of betterment, to use the jargon of the planner, and I hope that in Committee the noble Lady will accept what I believe will be some sound Amendments and possibly reject some that are unsound, and that afterwards the Bill will show itself to be further improved.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
There are other Bills on the Order Paper today to which I know hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, attach importance. I shall not delay the House for any length of time. In any case, I cannot speak on this subject with the knowledge and authority which has been shown by so many Members today.
I wish to join with all hon. Members in all parts of the House who have spoken in congratulating the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on having brought this Bill forward and on having made such a charming, erudite and effective speech. She showed that there is a widespread demand for this Bill. Few people will have known how many organisations, national and international, exist for the purpose of protecting birds, and it is a great fact that they have agreed upon the terms of the Bill.
The noble Lady has conclusively proved the case for new legislation to tidy up the law as it stands today. She and other hon. Members have shown that there are evils to be dealt with. I am sure that a number of questions will be raised in Committee. If my understanding is correct, the Bill will give satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) on the question of the gin trap.
I agree with him that the time is long overdue when the evil of oil pollution of the sea must be dealt with by drastic national and international action. I hope that the Home Secretary will give that 1536 subject proper attention. Although it cannot be dealt with adequately in connection with this Bill, it is important for the protection of birds.
Hon. Members will, of course, in Committee, wish to make alterations in the lists of birds named in the Schedules. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), I remember the days when black plover pie appeared on the menu of the Members' Dining Room. I hope that the noble Lady will put the black plover in the First Schedule of the Bill so that it may never appear on our table again.
I sympathised with the hon. and gallant Member when he said that the rook and little owl should come out of the Second Schedule. I would certainly agree to that. I sympathise with what my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton. Test (Dr. King) and Wrexham (Mr. Richards) said about the sparrow in their moving and characteristic speeches.
There is a point which was brought to my attention by one of my hon. Friends. There are many birds which do not appear in any of the Schedules. I have added them up, and I think that there are 159 named birds in all the Schedules. At the university I had a friend who had a separate number for every bird which inhabits or visits the British Isles. He noted down every night the numbers of the birds which he had seen during the day. If I remember rightly, there were about 780 birds whose names, numbers, call or song he knew by heart.
The heron does not appear in the noble Lady's list. The heron used to be quite an excitement to me when I was young. If I understand the situation correctly, all birds are given some protection under existing legislation, and if they are not named in the Bill it means that the existing protection is carried on.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
May I confirm that? Under the Bill comprehensive protection is given to all birds. An offence against them is subject to a penalty of £5. The birds whose names are in the First Schedule have the special protection of a £25 fine, because they are rare breeders in this country.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am much obliged to the noble Lady.
1537 That leads me to what I wish to say about penalties. I am sure everybody agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) that penalties are not the only or even the best way of ensuring observance of the law. The schools, the Press and public opinion may have a great part to play. But there must be penalties.
The question has been asked, are the penalties in the Bill adequate for the purpose in view? My feeling is that they are not. I should like to see heavier penalties imposed on those who commit the offences which the Bill forbids, subject always to the point made about juvenile offenders by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton. Test.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) complained that if this Bill is passed we shall massacre a good many Acts of Parliament. I confess that I do not mind killing Acts of Parliament if thereby we save the birds which share with us, and so greatly enhance, the beauty of our British countryside. I give the Bill my warm, not to say my ardent, support. I believe it to be a better Bill than that debated in another place. I regard it as an important and an urgent reform. I am glad the Government have given it their endorsement and I am confident that the noble Lady will have the satisfaction of seeing it passed into Law.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I only wish to intervene for a moment or two to add my support for this Bill. This debate has shown that the Wild Birds Protection Acts at present in force are, to say the least, chaotic and the comprehensive Measure now before the House will go a long way towards restoring a most unsatisfactory position.
There are only two points I wish to make, each referring to Clause 2 (6), which deals in part with the close season for woodcock, snipe, wild duck and wild geese. I welcome the proposal to give woodcock greater protection. I do not wish to be dogmatic about this, but I feel that in these days a case cannot be sustained for shooting this bird after 1st February or before the end of September.
It is not generally appreciated that woodcock tend to nest very early, earlier, in fact, than pheasants and partridges, and I cannot see any justification for allowing this bird to be shot anywhere 1538 in the country in February, after protection has been given to game. I have always thought that one of the reasons why woodcock are becoming so scarce is because they may be shot in all parts of the country for six months, and in some parts for seven months in the year.
It seems to me that much the same argument applies to snipe. They nest early and the authorities tell us it is by no means uncommon to hear snipe "drumming," which is the sign of courtship, as early as January. Some years ago snipe were shot much more freely in February, in the belief that they were not resident in this country, but were returning to their breeding grounds in Norway and Sweden and other northern countries. But modern practice, I am glad to say, tends to restrict the killing of these birds after January, and the proposals now before the House would give effect to a trend which, in my view, has much to commend it.
I come now to the question of the close season for wild duck and wild geese. This Bill seeks to extend the protection for this group of birds—taking all the exceptional cases into consideration—from 21st February until 31st August, and in so doing it will reduce by something over a fortnight the period during which duck and geese may be killed. To my mind this is a step in the right direction. But if wild fowl in this country are to be preserved in the numbers we all want to see, it will be necessary to go even further.
In this I think we have a great deal to learn from Canada and the United States, where wide and rigid measures have been introduced in recent years to conserve this species. Certainly, no group of birds in this country is more continuously shot at, and I do not doubt that the great decline in the number of wild fowl round our coasts is due to more extensive shooting than to any other cause. I speak from my own observations on the East Coast, in Norfolk and Suffolk and in some part of East Kent.
I do not believe that it is the professional wildfowlers, the long-shoremen, the punt-gunners, and so on, who exact the greatest toll. My experience of such men is that their bags do not approximate in size those achieved on some of the private shoots inland where, by artificial means, birds are attracted to the feeding grounds. I know it will be argued 1539 that industrial and agricultural development in Scandinavia and other Northern countries has disturbed the breeding grounds of these birds, and therefore the number of eggs which are allowed to hatch has been reduced. I think there is force in that argument. But, to my mind, the prime cause of the decline in the number of wild fowl in these islands may be found in the great increase in the amount of shooting which has taken place during the last 20 or 30 years.
I do not wish to be dogmatic about this, and I realise that it is a highly controversial matter. But I say that the open season for duck and geese should not be more than four months, extending from the beginning of October to the end of January, and absolute protection should be afforded to wild fowl for the remainder of the year. I appreciate the unpopularity of this suggestion and I would not press it because we have not entered into controversy this afternoon. Indeed, the debate has been agreeably free from controversy. I would merely content myself with saying that if the close season is to end on 31st August then it should begin not a day later than 1st February. I hope we shall not run into this extension of three extra weeks after 1st February.
To do this would not, in my opinion, interfere in any way—and I am sure we do not wish to do this—with the true winter sport of wildfowling as some of us know it. But it would, in my belief, be a means of arresting the decline which, if allowed to go unchecked, may in years to come deprive us still further of these species. While I appreciate that I cannot follow this argument now, I have long taken the view that partridges should not be shot for more than 10 weeks in the year, and that if we continue to pursue them for five months out of the 12 these birds may very well become immeasurably reduced before the end of the century. Similarly, unless we extend, to an even greater degree than is proposed in this Bill, the protection afforded to wild fowl we shall, I believe, be unable to prevent a continuation of the present decline which so many of us regret to see.
I welcome this Bill and congratulate my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on 1540 the manner in which it has been introduced. It embodies a number of reforms which have become necessary and, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) even urgent. The noble Lady is performing a great service in bringing this Measure forward and I hope it will obtain the support of the House.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I think it appropriate that we should have a speech on this subject from the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). One of the most pleasant things in connection with golf courses, or at least one of the least unpleasant, is the bird life which flourishes on them. In my youth I spent a considerable time trying to shoot wild fowl on the Eden at St. Andrews. I cannot say that I reduced the stock very much.
The hon. Member drew attention to two most important matters, the decline in the wild geese in this country and the possible danger to partridge stocks. Perhaps for the latter over-shooting is partly responsible, but also I think in some degree the use of various kinds of fertiliser and weed killer which reduce the insect population. No doubt at a later stage those points will be considered.
I consider it a great honour to have been asked by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) to say a few words to wind up this debate. I do not know why I should be honoured in this way. I am not an ornithologist. However I represent a great many birds.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Is it not because, in a political sense, the hon. Member represents a species which is extinct?
§ Mr. Grimond
I certainly noticed a curious similarity between the haunts of the red kite and those of the Liberal Party, and I was glad to hear that high in virtue among the counties which protect rare birds is the County of Carmarthen.
I represent a great many birds, mostly sea-birds, but also in my constituency is the Fair Isle, which is one of the oldest and most important places for observation of migration. The variety of birds which settle there is astonishing and 1541 includes even the nightingale, though where it is going to or coming from I have never been able to find out.
The noble Lady asked me to thank the House for the tone of the debate and to assure all hon. Members that their many suggestions will be taken into account. It has been a most interesting debate which has shown the enormous change which has come about in public opinion. Anyone who has read the book which I think is called "A Winter in Cornwall." by Hudson, may remember the appalling description of the slaughter of birds by Cornishmen who used to put out baited hooks in winter time to catch the exhausted migrants.
§ Mr. Grimond
It would have delighted Mr. Hudson if he had been able to be present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). We have become more civilised in our treatment of birds and wild animals. It is an interesting exchange that the fulmar has gone south to Cornwall while the chough has apparently gone north to I slay.
There are one or two points about which I think I ought to assure the House as far as I can. The mere fact that a bird is included in the Second Schedule is not an open invitation to everybody to go out and exterminate it. The house sparrow will be no worse off after the Bill comes into law—in fact, he will be better off than he is today. All that Schedule says is that if birds become too plentiful their number may be reduced. There is no question of extermination.
Secondly, on the question of penalty, no doubt this will be discussed in detail; but obviously one must carry public opinion with one. It is no good putting an enormous penalty upon the killing of birds when public opinion will say that it is out of proportion. The question of caged birds was discussed. I must say that I agree more with Blake than with the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I thinkA Robin Redbreast in a CagePuts all Heaven in a Rage.But that is not to say that the keeping of canaries and other cage birds is in the least affected by this Measure.
1542 One main purpose of the Bill is to clarify existing legislation. I hope that when it is finally passed and becomes an Act of Parliament, as no doubt it will, because it has the blessing of the Government and of the Opposition and of those rare birds, the Liberal Party, the suggestion that simple pictures should be made available to the public showing what birds are protected, and so on, will be followed up. I hope that a simple White Paper or other document will be issued and made widely known so that the ordinary person will understand the position.
Another object is to protect the rare birds, but also it might be said that merely because a bird is plentiful it does not necessarily follow that we can afford to continues hooting or trapping it indefinitely. There are many birds which suddenly become rare. If there is not a big stock of some species, it cannot survive.
This Measure will not stop the ordinary small boy climbing up a tree and taking a small bird's egg. The Government are absolutely right in saying that they must make it clear that they could not forbid the ordinary practice of bird's egg collecting. The Bill does not attempt to deal with sport and game birds or to forbid the keeping down of destructive birds. I hope that when we come to decide what birds are destructive, a fairly liberal view will be taken. There was considerable indignation among humans recently because tomtits learned to take the tops off milk bottles, but that is not sufficient reason for including them in the Second Schedule. We need to be assured that birds are really harmful. However, I believe that in some places we could with advantage greatly reduce the numbers of such birds as black-backed gulls and grey crows.
When we come to the details of the Schedules, I am sure that the noble Lady will be grateful if all hon. Members keep in mind, first, that there can be endless discussion in Committee and, secondly, that discretion will be left to the Secretary of State to alter the Schedules. That must be so. Some species increase and some decline, and there must be discretion to move them from Schedule to Schedule.
1543 At one time the great skua was extremely rare in my constituency. It is a very savage bird which even attacks the gannet, and the time may come when measures might have to be taken to give it less protection than it will get at present under the Bill. The same is true in an opposite sense of geese. The grey lag is in the First Schedule but other geese which are also declining rapidly get less full protection. These matters will be discussed in detail and final discretion will be left to the Minister.
I would add that some protection should be given to the noble Lady. When this Measure reaches the Committee stage, there might be a Dutch auction reminiscent of the discussion on Purchase Tax during the Committee stage of a Finance Bill. Everybody will come forward with more and more obscure birds—wrynecks, greater wrynecks, lesser wrynecks, spotted wrynecks. Unless the hon. Lady is afforded the full resources of the Civil Service, she will never be able to get the Schedules sorted out. Subject to that, I am sure that all the other points about bird sanctuaries, consultative committees, and so on, can be thrashed out.
Finally, I say that if we can carry the Bill and if we can carry behind it public opinion, then we shall not only have performed a most useful legislative function but we shall have given protection to one of the sources of great enjoyment which mankind can have. Bird watching is cheap and easy. It may be carried on in a London garden, in Orkney and Shetland or in Aberdeen. It is open to everyone and it is a simple, healthy and deserving occupation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.