HC Deb 21 May 1954 vol 527 cc2508-14

Lords Amendment: In page 15, line 20, after "Coot" insert: Curlew (other than stone curlew).

Lady Tweedsmuir

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is a very important Amendment, in view of the discussion which has taken place in this House. It is not because of any fear of dispute with my noble relative in another place that I am not suggesting that the House should disagree with the Amendment for I am already going to have an argument with him about two birds. I have good reason for proposing that we agree with the Lords in this Amendment.

On the Report stage we found that the curlew was in the Third Schedule, and an Amendment was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) to delete it; in other words, to give it the general protection of the Bill to ensure that it was not shot. I came to the House intending to resist the Amendment because, although the curlew is my second favourite bird, I did not wish to press my personal views on the House. I know quite well that it is a legitimate sporting bird. However, I found in the debate that hon. Members who spoke were all in favour of protecting it. I was very glad to see that, and I accepted the Amendment.

When the Bill went to another place it was found that an Amendment had been put down to restore the curlew to the Third Schedule. My noble relative and I had many long discussions on the matter, and we came to the conclusion that if we examined the Amendment on the merits of the case, it would be wise to leave the curlew where it was when the Bill was first presented to the House.

It is a legitimate sporting bird. Every year 2,000 to 3,000 curlew are shot. It is a wary prey and it is an honourable prey of a great number of our fellow countrymen. I and my hon. Friends have examined the Bill as fairly as possible, using our heads even more than our hearts. In view of all that I have said, and because we cannot in any way say that the curlew is declining in numbers, in fairness to a large section of our constituents we ought to agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Sir T. Moore

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)

I am glad that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) has expressed agreement with the Lords Amendment. In one way and another, members of another place have come in for a good deal of criticism today, but this is an occasion when I can do something which I do not often do, and that is praise noble Lords for something which they have done. I am in agreement with their action in respect of the curlew.

I am interested in the Bill from the wildfowler's angle. I am not a wild-fowler, but many of my constituents are members of wildfowlers' associations. Throughout the Bill I have tried to ascertain their wishes and then made up my mind. I am glad that the curlew has been restored to the Third Schedule. It ought never to have been removed from it. Its removal caused a good deal of consternation to wildfowlers because they think that the curlew is a legitimate quarry for the gun. It is a very wild bird and is most difficult to approach for a shot. I do not think there is any danger of its extinction. It is well able to look after itself.

Protection of the curlew would spoil the sport of innumerable men who do not shoot very much. Wildfowlers these days do not come from only one social class of the community. A great many working men in my part of the country are members of wildfowlers' associations and are particularly interested in this matter. I am very glad that the noble Lady has moved that we should agree with the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Vane

At an earlier stage I spoke in favour of greater protection for the curlew because, among other reasons, there are many people in Westmorland who look upon the curlew as their county emblem, but I will not press that view today.

I recognise that there are people in this country who regard the curlew as a legitimate sporting bird. I do not believe that they are "innumerable," as the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) said, and I do not believe that the number of curlew shot annually amounts to a very great total when we consider the large and increasing number of the birds now nesting in this country. In consequence, I feel that hon. Members who on the previous occasion pressed for greater protection were perhaps wrong, on balance.

If I thought that the number of curlew was decreasing at all rapidly, and if it was a common sight to see curlew hanging in poulterers' shops, I should take a different view from the one I now hold, but in the light of all the circumstances I do not think there is any valid reason for the earlier prohibition in the Bill. In any case, in this country we already have more than enough prohibitions for which there is no apparent justification. We must be careful not to add to their number without very good reason, and in this instance there is no very good reason for doing so.

Mr. Kenyon

I find myself in entire opposition to everything that has been said by the previous speakers. I was under the impression that this Bill sought to protect wild birds—not wildfowlers and good shots—but all the arguments that have been used have been on behalf of the wildfowlers and the good shots in those constituencies where the poor curlew is found. The argument has been put forward that there are plenty of curlews, and that, because its numbers are not decreasing, this is a bird which it is legitimate to include in the Schedule, and, therefore, shoot.

It is too late to take action when the decrease in the number of birds has already begun, as we have seen in the case of the lapwing. It is far too late when the decline is already proceeding, and the time to safeguard these birds is before that process begins. It we had done it in the case of the lapwing, perhaps we should not have been in the difficult position in which we were placed a short time ago.

Here we are asked to say that a curlew shall be fair game for the wildfowler and the good shot. The curlew is a noble moor bird—one of the great birds of the moors—and I think it is an absolute tragedy that we should give way to the arguments advanced in support of this Amendment in another place. I am absolutely against it.

Colonel Clarke

I should like to say a few words on the position of the wildfowler. The aim of the Bill is to protect birds, and, possibly, those who wish to do so may do so from various motives. It will be a great pity if we cannot get a common agreement, because the wildfowlers are not only ready to protect the birds which they themselves shoot, but all other birds as well, if their is any danger of their numbers being seriously reduced. Wildfowlers are often naturalists, and they are interested in birds.

At the same time, they have their sport, and it is a pity that the good relations which should exist between them and the naturalists should have been imperilled by the curlew being removed from the Schedule, when, as a matter of fact, it is a bird which they have been able to shoot for many years. Not unnaturally, that sort of thing is likely to imperi[...] these relations, and I hope, as a result of this Amendment, that situation will be put right, so that the relations between these two sections of the community may be restored to the harmony which existed before.

1.45 p.m.

Dr. King

I agree that this part of the Bill is a compromise between those interested in the protection of birds and the wildfowlers. Everything done in the Bill has been a compromise which upsets either one side or the other, and, on the whole, both the wildfowlers and the bird protectionists have behaved in a very generous and reasonable manner.

Nobody has said a word against the curlew. In all the debates in this House or in another place, nobody has levelled an indictment against it. It is not even being accused of being anti-social by eating too many fish or of some of the other very serious charges which have been levelled against some birds this morning. As a matter of fact, if we are to sit in moral judgment on the curlew, it is one of those rare birds which helps to protect other birds or animals by warning them—

Colonel Clarke

Does the hon. Gentleman say that the curlew is a rare bird?

Mr. Ede

One of those rare birds against which no charge can be made.

Colonel Clarke

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should consider the curlew a rare bird.

Dr. King

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had allowed me to finish my sentence, he would have realised that I was saying that the curlew is one of those rare creatures which not only protects itself but also warns other birds and other creatures of oncoming danger from the wildfowler, so that, morally, there is no case against it.

The noble Lady said herself that the curlew was her second favourite bird, and I believe that in another place one noble Lord declared that it was his favourite. One cannot accuse him of being anything but extremely honourable, and one would expect that, in proscribing the curlew, we should also be proscribing the whimbrel, because when the curlew goes out, out goes the whimbrel. It is to be killed, not only by association, but by failure to identify it.

Noble Lords in the other place who had been emulating Anthony, Lepidus and Octavius, in trying to be sure that the lists of their enemies were complete, might produce the result that Cinna the poet will be hanged because they thought he was Cinna the conspirator. I hope the noble Lady will have later thoughts on this matter, and agree to put back the curlew where it should be.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Although I have been in a considerable measure of agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite so far, at this eleventh hour I must take issue with them on the question of the curlew. This is not just a wild birds protection Bill in isolation. We have to preserve a balance between various sections of the community in this Bill, just as in any other legislation.

This is not an anti-shooting Bill, and it is not necessary for us to prove that the curlew does any particular harm, for it to be included in the Third Schedule. It is enough to show it is not there, and an accepted edible sporting bird, as is also the case with a large number of birds already included in the Schedule. We have already removed from the wild-fowler a large number of birds which were formerly his legitimate sport, and we ought to be very careful before we take away another bird which is normally accepted as the quarry of wildfowlers.

Neither is this a question of birds being shot by a very small but well-to-do section of the community. This is very much a working man's sport, and the curlew has often been called the working man's grouse. Therefore, we should be very careful before we prevent the shooting of a bird which has for a very long time been regarded as a legitimate sporting bird. I do not think anyone would suggest that there is any danger of the bird being exterminated; in fact, the curlew is very much on the increase at the moment, and anyone who lives along the shores of our country is able to see enormous numbers about at present.

Finally, there is the point that the advisory committee recommended that the shooting of the bird should be permitted in the open season, and I think that it would be a pity to fly in face of that recommendation.

Question put, and agreed to

Lords Amendment disagreed to: In page 15, line 22, leave out "Moorhen."

Lords Amendment agreed to: In page 15, line 31, leave out "Garganey teal."

Committee appointed to draw up reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill: Colonel Clarke, Mr. Hastings, Mr. Hayman, Sir H. Lucas-Tooth and Lady Tweedsmuir.

Three to be the quorum.—[Lady Tweedsmuir.]

To withdraw immediately.


Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to.

To be communicated to the Lords.

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