HL Deb 21 June 1921 vol 45 cc649-51

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill may be described as a migrant from another place, and yet I doubt whether its real home will not be found to be here, for in the last session of Parliament the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, introduced into this House a similar Bill which had the unusual distinction not merely of passing without a Division, but practically without a speech. Upon its introduction it was welcomed by the representative of the Government who was then in charge of the House, the noble Marquess abstained from further comment, and the Bill passed without any debate. After that striking testimonial to the merits of this measure I might really say no word now, but for the fact that this stage of the Bill is, of course, the last step that we have to travel in our long, and tiresome journey to make the measure law. As your Lordships know, the Bill is designed to prevent the importation of the plumage of birds into this country, and I think that those of you who are familiar with the cruelties that have been perpetrated in connection with the plumage trade will wish this Bill well.

I do not intend to keep your Lordships very long, but let rue give one or two statements of fact with regard to the way in which the plumage trade has been carried on. Three hundred thousand albatrosses and terns were slaughtered on Laysan Island alone, and the evidence about them is that the traders cut, the wings off many of the living birds and left them to die in agony while suffering from these wounds. Thirteen out of the 18 species of humming birds have been exterminated in Trinidad alone, and that notwithstanding the zealous efforts of the father of the noble Lord. Lord Stanmore, whom I am glad to see opposite me, who did everything that could be done to prevent the continuance of this cruelty. In the June feather sales in 1913, 77,000 egret skins were advertised for sale; 6,328 crowned pigeons; 162,750 Smyrnian kingfishers; and 40,000 condor quills. At other sales in the same year there were offered in addition 5,140 crowned pigeons; 5,321 white terns; 1,233 smuggled emu skins; 16,211 white crane wing quills; 19,125 mullet hawk wing quills; 10,800 bustard quills; and the feathers of other birds.

A horrible thing connected with this trade is not merely that the birds are being slowly exterminated, but that the moment chosen for their extermination is the moment when every living thing, excepting those that are pestilential, has the right to demand and to receive the protection of man. For the time when, in obedience to that strange, mysterious power that moves and vivifies the whole world—at the moment of their nesting season—these creatures put on the full glory of their plumage is the moment selected for their capture, and they ace killed in such circumstances as I have mentioned, while their young are left to starve in their nests. I know that the whole of our life is to some extent associated with the pain and suffering of animals, but I am certain that no one whom I am addressing would permit, for a single moment, the infliction of needless cruelty and suffering upon any form of the living creation which has not some full and effective compensation. There is no compensation whatever for the sufferings that these birds undergo. There is not the equivalent of the vigour and the wholesomeness of the life of sport. There is not even the advantage that is gained from the pursuit of scientific knowledge. All this is caused for no purpose whatever, except to ease the ache of a woman's vanity, and to pay tribute to the deity of fashion whom many worship and all despise.

The Bill itself is simple. It provides that plumage shall not be imported into this country except in the case of all birds that are specified in the Schedule, and the Board of Trade have power from time to time to add to the Schedule if they think right. Birds imported alive and birds used for food are exempted from the provisions of the Statute. An Advisory Committee is to be set up for the Board of Trade to enable them to determine what birds, if any, shall be added to the Schedule, and the operation of the Statute is postponed till nine months after its passage. I think that many of your Lordships may feel, as I do, that the Bill is not nearly as strong as the circumstances of the cases demand, but it is a step forward, and it will do something to check the continuance of a system which I believe all of us genuinely hate. It always seemed to me a strange thing that. man, who after all is only the parvenu of creation and the latest-corner into the heritage, of the world, should have taken advantage of his opportunity for the purpose of excluding from their rightful share of the world's enjoyments all the older inhabitants of that world. This will, I think, to some extent check his depredations. It will do something to stop a traffic that I think has been a grave disgrace to mankind, and. will preserve to sonic extent, not only for us but for those who will follow us on this earth, some of the most exquisite specimens of the handiwork of God. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2ª.— (Lord Buckmaster.)


My Lords, I wish, in a very few words, to thank Lord Buckmaster for bringing forward this Bill for your Lordships' consideration. I would earnestly beg the House to pass it as soon as possible. We have already, on three or four occasions, been fortunate enough to secure the assent of your Lordships to a Bill of this kind, but we have had a very difficult task in obtaining the consent of the House of Commons. There we have been repulsed several times, but at last we have been successful in bringing before your Lordships' House an agreed. Bill. Though it does not contain everything that some of us could wish, it is at all events a Bill agreed upon by all Parties in the House of Commons. I can assure your Lordships that the society of which I am President, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, and every humane society in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has been anxiously awaiting the passing of this measure, and they Will be deeply grateful to your Lordships for your immediate assent to the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, may I say on behalf of the Board of Trade that this Bill, in its existing form, has the full sympathy and support of His Majesty's Government, who will welcome its passage into law.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.