HL Deb 10 May 1921 vol 45 cc267-73

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I earnestly hope that your Lordships may approve of it and give it your unanimous consent. It is a small Bill of one clause. The object of it is to do away with trapped bird shooting as at present practised, and, of course, principally with pigeon shooting. I move this Bill because pigeon shooting at the present time is not a real sport. It gives rise to possibilities of great cruelty and is extremely offensive to a great proportion of the British public who are essentially sporting in the best sense of the word. I always think that the best definition of sport is one in which the quarry has an opportunity of escape, and it should have a fair chance of escape. In this case I cannot find that the bird liberated, especially the pigeon, has a fair chance of escape. It cannot rise when or where it pleases, nor use in any way its natural instinct to escape.

The shoot is invariably competitive. Prizes are offered and the competition is invariably accompanied by betting. Indeed, the object of pigeon shooting, as practised at the present time, is betting. It is quite easy to imagine the cruelty that can be practised—I will not say it always is practised—when the winning or losing of money—which is generally the object of the pigeon shooting—accompanies shooting— It is quite easy to imagine. And it is not only imagination, because in the days before the war my Society was informed of the great cruelty practised on the captive bird, such as depriving it of eyesight, pulling out its tail feathers and inserting a pin in its body. I do not say that is the general practice, but the shooting of trapped birds offers opportunities for cruelty of this description.

The continual handling of live birds for the trap makes men callous, especially when money is the incentive. It is not as if it was a matter of pure skill. It is well known that there are mechanical contrivances, such as clay pigeons, which are in use at the present time, and where skill can be practised when it is necessary to have trap shooting. I am also aware that pigeon shooting was, at one time, very much practised in England. It was carried on at clubs like Hurlingham and Ranelagh, but, owing to the efforts of one of the highest ladies in the land, it was done away with, and it is now practised only in places which, to put it mildly, are not of the highest class, or where much care is likely to be taken to avoid cruelty.

I have reason to believe that the Government is favourable to this In the House of Commons it met with very slight opposition of any sort or kind, and there is no doubt that public opinion is very much in favour of the abolition of this sort of thing. The framers of the Bill have taken great care not to interfere in any way with sport such as pheasant shooting, or shooting of that description. We have carefully avoided anything which would trench upon that which the British public know as sport. I think I may say that I have the sporting instinct and have been a sportsman all my life in the way of shooting and hunting, and I am not the man to try to induce your Lordships to pass a Bill which would be likely to interfere with what is known as true sport. True sport consists, as I have said, in allowing animals to have a fair chance of escape and of practising no cruelty. We have included all birds, such as sparrows or starlings, for the reason that we found very often that where pigeons were not used starlings and sparrows were used, and we thought there was a good opening for cruelty in that direction. The framers of the Bill thought that it was not fair to the bird, was not real British sport, and was entirely condemned by the British public.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Lanibourne.)


My Lords, I will only say a few words on the subject of the Bill of which the noble Lord has moved the Second Reading. It is a Bill for which my right hon. friend promised to give facilities as a Private Bill in the House of Commons, and the Government are in sympathy with the object it has in view. The noble Lord has mentioned the fact that the Bill has been carefully framed so as not to apply to legitimate sport, and so that it shall not apply to anything but meetings at which captive birds are liberated for the purpose of being shot at the time of their liberation. It only applies to that, and I do not think I need say anything more, except that the Govern-went are in favour of its terms.


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of moving the rejection of this Bill, for two reasons. In the first place, I am quite aware that it would not be of the slightest use to do so, and in the second place, I do not for one moment desire to appear' as an apologist for, or an admirer of, pigeon shooting. But I must confess that it strikes me that we are, perhaps, in danger of making ourselves somewhat ridiculous over this Bill. Looking round the House, small as the attendance is, I expect I am not far wrong in assuming that pearly every Peer present has at one time in his life taken part in pigeon shooting. I remember very well on a former occasion that no less a person than the most rev. Primate admitted (not, I thought, without a touch of conscious pride), that he was the possessor of a cup which he had won at pigeon shooting in his youth—a cup, I trust, not won at Monte Carlo, but in all probability at some seat of learning. I might also remark that the connection of the Church with pigeon shooting is closer than might generally be supposed, because, if I am not mistaken, the Gun Club grounds were the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Considering the number of persons who are, so to speak, incriminated, and the long continuance of this practice, I am a little surprised at the overwhelming display of indignation which is apparent at the present moment. What I do not like about this Bill is that it is obviously the outcome of what is known as a "Press stunt." It must be perfectly obvious to everybody that one of the principal newspapers in the country has embarked, rightly or wrongly, upon a crusade against pigeon shooting at Monte Carlo. Numerous letters have appeared, which compete for pride of place with other letters upon the European situation, the coal strike, the. number of dwts. there ought to be in a golf ball, and any topics of absorbing interest at the moment. To my mind, these letters convey an entirely false impression, because they are obviously written with the intention of inducing a belief that people go to Monte Carlo as they might go, say, to Lourdes, or Mecca, or Jerusalem, for the purpose of solemn meditation and introspection, and that they are outraged by the presence of pigeon shooters.

I cannot help asking these people why, if they are so outraged, they go to Monte Carlo at all. People do not go to Monte Carlo for the purpose of solemn meditation. They go, if I am not mistaken, and if they have not changed their habits, for the purpose of playing trente et quaranteorroulette.There are plenty of other places open to them if they are outraged by pigeon shooting at Monte Carlo. They can go elsewhere. Neither can I believe that any serious impression is likely to be created by a Press campaign directed against pigeon shooting at Monte Carlo. The shooting there, from what I understand, is in the hands of professional gunmen of either French or Italian nationality, and I should think they would remain supremely indifferent to the progress of a Bill, or to any Press campaign, in this country. If pigeon shooting conies to an end at Monte Carlo it will in all probability be due more to pressure of shareholders than to any agitation here.

My noble friend, with whose intentions everybody will sympathise, based his arguments against this particular kind of shooting chiefly on the ground of cruelty. It is undoubtedly the case that there is a wide-spread impression, which is not altogether incorrect, that these trapped pigeons are subject to ill-usage before being shot at, and that if they are not killed outright they die a lingering death in very painful circumstances. I doubt very much whether the statements as to the cruelty perpetrated upon them before they are shot at have much foundation in fact, because—without giving these people any credit for humanity—it stands to reason that it is to their interest to keep the birds in the best possible condition in order that they may afford the so-called sport. Will anybody here who has had any sporting experience, seriously contend that there is as much cruelty involved in a trapped bird shooting competition as there is, for instance, in a big day's covert shooting or a big day's grouse driving, or even in a day's partridge driving? Pigeon shooting is a so-called amusement, or sport, which takes place in a populous neighbourhood. If a pigeon is killed at once there is an end of the whole thing. If it is winged, it is probably retrieved and put out of its pain. If, on the other hand, it escapes, it joins tame birds, and no doubt it then comes to an end, because the proprietor of those tame pigeons appropriates it as his property, and destroys it.

Take the case of a day's covert shooting. I have done a good deal of shooting in my time—not so much as my noble friend, because he is rather older than I am—and I maintain, without fear of contradiction, that the amount of suffering inflicted upon the animal creation in the course of a big day's shooting is infinitely greater than the volume of cruelty which is perpetrated in the course of a pigeon shooting tournament. I contend that the great majority of birds or animals which are shot at by legitimate sportsmen, if they are not killed, are wounded, and if they are not promptly retrieved they go away and die, after having undoubtedly undergone very great suffering. Wounded rabbits go away and die in their holes. Wounded birds disappear from the sight of man, and die a lingering death, which is perhaps accelerated by attacks from hawks or other vermin. Take the case of a sport which, to my mind, is perhaps the most amusing form of shooting that exists—the sport of shooting wood pigeons, an occupation which was vehemently urged and applauded by people who are now denouncing the shooting of trapped pigeons. The amount of cruelty that you inflict in shooting at wild pigeons is greater than that inflicted upon tame pigeons, because, as any one knows who has tried it, for one bird that you kill, you wound three or four. I do not think anybody will deny that a wild pigeon must suffer just as much as a tame one.

There is no getting away from the fact—it is no good trying to deceive ourselves upon this point—that sport involves a certain amount of cruelty to animals. Foxes and deer cannot enjoy being hunted. Fish suffer when they are angled for. Undoubtedly the most cruel form of sport is shooting. It seems to me that on these grounds it is very difficult to condemn trapped bird shooting on the ground of cruelty. You must, therefore, discover some other reason. Is the morality of shooting trapped birds really much lower than that displayed in the pursuit of what is called legitimate sport? What does it really amount to? The pigeon shooter is an individual for whom none of us feel much sympathy. His practice is to buy a bird and shoot at it. The practice of the legitimate sportsman, if he has sufficient money, is not to buy a bird but to buy eggs, and when the eggs develop into birds they are nourished with the utmost care. Every possible precaution is taken to make their existence a happy one. Every care is taken of them, and then, one fine day, the proprietor, who has lavished all this care upon them, suddenly turns upon them, having taught them to regard him as a natural friend and protector, and kills them, or endeavours to kill them.

However unsympathetic one may be towards the professional shooter, I do not know that the legitimate sportsman is a more inspiring object. I do not think that a man who faces the hen pheasant with a couple of guns, supported by a leader and by another individual carrying cartridges, and by a dog, is a more inspiring figure on the whole than a man who shoots a pigeon at thirty yards' rise, and is prepared to lay 5 to 2 or 3 to 1 on the gun if necessary. I would also like to point out that the legitimate sportsman is not above imitating the methods of the condemned trapped bird shooter. In former days, when there was more money to spend on such things than there is at the present time, it used to be a common practice to rear so-called wild ducks, and everybody who has indulged in that pursuit knows that those ducks very soon lose their wild qualities and become inconveniently tame, lethargic, and ponderous in their habits. Indeed, it was difficult to get them to fly at all. In those circumstances they were removed, placed in hampers, liberated, and then shot at by the legitimate sportsman. All that will come to an end under the Bill


No it will not.


Then it ought, for I do not see that there is any difference between the two practices. As a matter of fact, it is probably easier on the whole to kill these birds than it is to kill a pigeon at thirty yards rise. We are asked to legislate because this particular form of sport is an illegitimate sport. Here we at once get into difficulties. For my part, I am not at all sure what a sportsman is. A man who rides a steeplechase is a sportsman. A man who shoots big game is a sportsman. A man who goes up in an aeroplane and ventures to descend several thousand feet by means of a parachute is a sportsman. So also is the man who will pass hours and days watching a billiard match, or a cricket match, which take almost as long to finish as a Bill does to pass through Parliament. The mean who will go into a barber's shop and back at starting prices horses which he has never seen, is looked upon as rather a meritorious sportsman, and the kind of sportsman who meets with much admiration is the man with any amount of money who spends fabulous sums in buying yearlings, or two-year olds, with the anticipation that it will some day help him to a position in society, and perhaps enable him to obtain a seat in this House.

So far as I am concerned I give it up. I do not know what a sportsman is, and the best way to find out is to appoint a Joint Committee of both Houses, on which the most rev. Primate and Lord Lonsdale might form two of our representatives and Mr. Bottomley and Commander Kenworthy might represent the other branch of the Legislature. Then we might know where we stood; what was a sportsman, and what was not. Meanwhile, the so-called legitimate sportsmen are only preparing a rod for their own backs. Legislation is not likely to stop at trapped birds. It is an absolute certainty, and the only logical conclusion, that all field sports will be attacked on the ground of humanity, and when that time comes those who have welcomed this Bill will find it extremely difficult to make a successful defence on behalf of the amusements which hitherto have escaped interference.

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