HC Deb 28 July 1976 vol 916 cc657-60

3.57 p.m.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the British Railways Board to continue to accept unaccompanied racing pigeons for freight carriage.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Dr. Marshall

I am overwhelmed by the popularity of this subject. I suspect that hon. Members in all parts of the House have reecived representations on this important matter from pigeon fanciers in their constituencies.

This matter has arisen because of British Rail's proposal to end the freight carriage of pigeons as well as of most other livestock—a proposal that was due to come into force on 1st July 1976. As a result of pressure that was brought to bear on British Rail and on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about this problem, British Rail agreed to defer the date when the proposed ban would come into force and to await further discussion of the subject by the Central Transport Consultative Committee. It so happens that that committee is meeting this very day to discuss the matter. Therefore, it is appropriate that the House should be considering the matter at the same time.

The facility to send unaccompanied racing pigeons by rail is indispensable for the activities of nearly all pigeon fanciers. Although most of the large clubs of fanciers have elaborate road transport arrangements for sending their birds to participate in the main races, there are other small clubs in remote areas that still find it more convenient and economical to send their few baskets of birds by rail. Similarly, there are mid-week racing clubs that do not have road transport facilities available away from weekends and therefore have to use rail freight. Individual pigeon fanciers who are not organised in clubs—and this includes many schoolboys—also rely on rail to send off their birds. Moreover, pigeon fanciers of all categories use the railways to dispatch their birds for short training flights and for exchange transactions with other pigeon fanciers in response to advertisements in the specialist magazines.

Equally important, rail is the only means of sending home pigeons that go astray in flight, particularly many young birds sent off for the first time for their first long journey. People who find these lost birds are able to report them to the nearest pigeon racing club, which will be able to identify the owner of the bird and return it to him by using the railways. There is no alternative to rail transport for the return of these lost pigeons.

Furthermore, an essential feature of the sport of pigeon fancying is the series of large shows, usually held in the winter months, to which the individual exhibitor generally sends his bird or birds by rail and from which in many instances he personally collects them afterwards. These shows are held at major centres of population, including Doncaster, in my area. From the proceeds of these shows, donations are made to the funds of nationwide charities. In the last four years the Royal Pigeon Racing Association has donated a sum of £19,000 to the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Without rail transport of unaccompanied pigeons, these shows and similar charity auctions could not continue.

Why on earth has British Rail proposed its ban? At first we were told by senior officials of the Board that the ban was necessary in order to comply with the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Tell us what is in the Bill.

Dr. Marshall

This is part of what is in the Bill. That Order places on the carriers of all livestock legal responsibilities which cannot be transferred to the owners. But upon investigation it turned out that the Order necessitates no ban on this traffic. In relation to pigeons, the operative Order is still the Transit of Poultry Order 1919.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), who called out "Tell us what is in the Bill", was quite in harmony, in so doing, with what I said yesterday to the hon. Member for Liverpool Wavertree (Mr. Steen). The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) must use his 10 minutes to tell us what he is proposing, or why the House should let him have the Bill.

Dr. Marshall

I accept what you say, Mr. Speaker, but it seems to me that the remarks I am making are part of the reason that a Bill of this nature is necessary. Perhaps you will rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker, if I am wrong, bit I insist that all this background is necessary in showing why I wish to seek leave to bring in the Bill I shall try to use the remainder of my 10 minutes as expeditiously as I can.

It seems to me that the Order under which the freight transport of racing pigeons has been carried out for 57 years, namely the Transit of Poultry Order 1919, is therefore something with which British Railways are quite happy, and to which they cannot object at this time or which they cannot use as an excuse for the ban they are proposing.

It may be that British Rail is looking at this more in commercial terms, although it has emerged from the inquiries which have been made that the revenue arising to British Rail as a result of this traffic is annually £150,000. That is something on the positive side, and I cannot imagine what sudden savings would be made by British Rail if this traffic were no longer to be accepted.

All told, I am left with the impression that British Rail quite simply does not wish to be bothered with this traditional traffic any longer. Its attitude is part of the contraction syndrome which at present seems to dominate so much of its thinking. By contrast, I believe that many railway men up and down the country take great pleasure in handling the transit of pigeons.

On behalf of pigeon fanciers throughout the country, I seek this opportunity to place an obligation on British Rail to continue this traffic.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Edmund Marshall, Mr. Norman Buchan, Mr. Robin F. Cook, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. Stan Crowther, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Bruce George, Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar, Mr. Mike Noble Mr. George Park, and Mr. Neville Sandelson.