HC Deb 09 April 1954 vol 526 cc705-10
Mr. J. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 15, line 4, at the beginning, to insert "Coot."

I have no deep feeling about this matter. The coot certainly does a considerable amount of damage to fishing interests. It is also a gross feeder. It bullies the young of duck and other small waterside birds. It is felt that it might be useful in certain circumstances to put it into the list of harmful birds.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Reading, North)

I do not wish to divide the House on this Amendment, but I feel that sufficient reasons have not been advanced for adding more birds to the black list. This matter was very fully gone into by the Committee. After all, the Second Schedule black list can be added to for any area where birds are alleged to be doing harm. Clause 4 (2, a) also allows anyone to kill birds which are doing harm to various forms of property, including the sort of property that has just been spoken of. I would like an explanation from the noble Lady. I could mention many other birds more harmful than the coot or the moorhen.

Colonel Clarke

On a point of order. Are we not only discussing the coot? The hon. Member is referring to the moorhen.

Mr. Bennett

What I said applies with equal force to the coot. I shall make a reference to the other bird on a later Amendment. There are plenty of alternative powers for dealing with this bird if and when they do damage. We shall have difficulty if we are to add birds to the black list because they sometimes do harm. We shall not know where to stop. So I cannot see why we should suddenly insert the coot at this stage.

Sir J. Lucas

I should like to give one example of when it is necessary to shoot coot out of season. Only last week I was asked by the Middlesex Agricultural Committee to help to shoot coot on Staines Reservoir.

There is no doubt that the coot, when in considerable numbers, can do a great deal of harm to neighbouring crops, and I think that the coot should be added to the Schedule.

1.0 p.m.

Dr. King

I did not think that I should live to be in agreement with the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) in this House. We discussed the proscribed list in great detail in Committee; and that was the unhappiest part of the Bill, in the opinion of some of us, because it contained things that should not be there. The chance to indict the British bird surely was in Committee, and I hope that on this stage we are not going to add to the black list of birds.

Sir Fergus Graham (Darlington)

Those who really love the variety of birds must remember that where gross feeders collect the attraction for the selective feeders is not to be found. The coot is an example of a gross feeder. We divide waterfowl into gross and selective feeders. The former devour the special foods of the latter and prevent their being any attraction for the smaller fowl to join them. For example, the sheldrake prevents the mallard, and the mallard in large numbers is not joined by the teal, shovellers or even the pintail or the widgeon.

Mr. Hayman

I have found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) more than once during the passage of this Bill through the House, and I am very grateful to him for the stand which he has taken on several occasions.

I should like to emphasise the point which he has made this morning that powers already exist under Clause 4 (2, a) for dealing with this bird if it is doing serious damage to crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries. I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) that some of us have thought that perhaps the coot was put down for inclusion in the Second Schedule because the moorhen has wandered into that Schedule, and that it would be difficult to define between the moorhen and the coot. Having said that, I do not propose to divide the House.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I waited to speak until now because I was rather undecided about this matter, which is very difficult. The bird is already in the Third Schedule. My own feeling, after listening to the discussion, is that I think that it is perhaps best to leave it in the Third Schedule. I say this because, in reference to the views put forward as to damage to crops, I consulted the Ministry of Agriculture, and they have said that they do not themselves ask for this bird to be included in the Second Schedule. They thought that it would be quite all right to use the powers under Clause 4 (2, a), whereby the bird can be proscribed in local areas, and I think that would be the most reasonable compromise.

Mr. J. Morrison

I hope that the statement of the Ministry of Agriculture will mean that if anyone asks for a permit he will get it under six months. In view of what the hon. Lady has said so well, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to move, in page 15, line 4, after "Magpie," to insert "Moorhen."

I want to make it perfectly clear that the moorhen and the coot are totally different birds. For example, the coot is a gregarious bird. It exists in large herds—I think that is the right word—on open waters, whereas the moorhen is generally in pairs or small families and lives on practically every pond throughout the country; it is far more widely distributed.

I have watched them for many years, and I have come to the conclusion that moorhens, which look very innocent, are really very wicked little birds. They do a great deal of harm. They take small fish and fish spawn, they eat the food put out for ornamental water fowl and poultry, and they are not above attacking other birds. I am supported by the highest legal opinion on this matter because, originally, in another place and in another Bill, which I must not talk about, the moorhen was not included in a list of birds to be killed throughout the year. It was not included in the original Bill, but it was moved in another place that it should be included, and that was done by the promoter of the Bill in Committee.

What we are really asking to be done is for the moorhen to be moved from the Third Schedule to the Second Schedule, which means that it would be possible, either by shooting or taking their eggs, to keep these birds under reasonable control throughout the year. One will not have to wait for six months before one is to take action to keep their numbers under control. I know that one can apply for a special permit, but that takes a great deal of time, and by the end of that time the damage will be done and be irretrievable.

Mr. J. Morrison

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

I think I shall now give the hon. Member for Test (Dr. King) the opportunity of repeating his rare agreement with me, because I cannot myself see that anything that has just been said should divert us from what our attitude ought to be towards the moorhen, as well as the coot.

I have said that Clause 4 (2, a) gives power to destroy if they are doing damage. This therefore is not a matter of whether a bird shall be totally protected or not, because it is already in the Third Schedule, but simply whether it should be killed during the nesting season. I should not have thought that this bird was so damaging to agricultural interests that it ought to be put in the black list category in the same way as the carrion crow.

I am supported in my view by the fact that I think the Ministry of Agriculture take much the same view in regard to the moorhen as they take to the coot, and they are not pressing for this bird to be included in the Second Schedule. I hope, therefore, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not press this Amendment.

Dr. King

My quip just now may have appeared discourteous. I and the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) have agreed on many things in Committee on this Bill. Our disagreements are outside what we are discussing this morning. I hope that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) at this late stage will dig her heels in and refuse this request.

Viscount Lambton

I should like to defend this bird against the charge of taking food which had been put down for other birds. It is much too discriminatory to condemn the bird on that account because food put down is common property and one cannot complain because of a bird's superior intelligence.

Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

I strongly support all that has been said on behalf of this Amendment. I have rather a weakness for the moorhen but not for the coot, which I think a singularly unattractive bird. The moorhen does not do much damage. Even though it takes food which other birds might otherwise take, that is no good reason for removing it from the Third Schedule and putting it in the Second Schedule. It is an attractive bird. During the shooting season it can offer a certain amount of sport for young sportsmen who are learning to shoot, but to put the bird in the class of really destructive birds is utterly absurd.

Mr. Ede

I should like to say a few words in defence of the moorhen. I know of no more delightful bird on the water. Undoubtedly, it gives greater pleasure to children when they are watching birds on the water than any other. They watch it feeding and they are delighted with its movements and the young birds particularly are a source of never ending pleasure for children in the neighbourhood of the waters. It is true that everybody's character can be blackened if people only take the trouble to suggest that they over-eat a little or that they eat something that someone else would like.

Children might learn from the moorhen not to be too greedy, like the small boy who would like a particular cake and complains because his sister has got it, for the reason that he has food in his mouth and has not been able to get it down fast enough to get at the cake first. I hope that we shall not include this particularly delightful, attractive and, on the whole, quite harmless little bird in the category of destructive birds.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I think that the sense of the House is against the Amendment. It is true also that the Ministry of Agriculture think that the moorhen has plenty of protection under powers granted in Clause 4 (2, a). It may interest hon. Members to know that a scientific examination of the contents of the moorhen's stomach produced certain kinds of snails including, it is said, the snail that causes liver rot in sheep, and for that purely practical reason it might be better to leave the moorhen in the Third Schedule.

Colonel Clarke

It is with regret that I see that the moorhen has deceived my colleagues on both sides of the House. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 15, line 6, after "only," insert: Rock-dove (in Scotland only)."—[Mr. J. Morrison.]