HL Deb 28 April 1925 vol 60 cc1071-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I need occupy but a few minutes of your Lordships' time in asking you to give a Second Reading to this Bill. It does not owe its origin in any way to me. It was introduced in the other House of Parliament, read a Second time, and referred to a Standing Committee. It passed that to give it a Second Reading. I regret that there seems to be a tendency to regard the Bill as unnecessary. Those who prepared it regard it as a necessary and a practical measure which is urgently required in the interests of the public and of licensing administration in Scotland. I should propose, therefore, to ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading, and afterwards to consult my friends as to whether any further steps should be taken or not.

On Question, Whether the Bill be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 40: Not-Contents. 23.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Onslow, E. Dunedin, L.
Stanhope, E. Faringdon, L.
Salisbury, M. (Lord Privy Seal.) Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Burnham, V. Gisborough, L.
Cecil of Chelwood, V. Jessel, L.
Portland, D. Churchill, V. Leigh, L.
Cross, V. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Balfour, E. Novar, V. [Teller.] Muskerry, L.
Clarendon, E. Ullswater, V. Newton, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensbery.) Younger of Leckie, V. Raglan, L.
Redesdale, L.
Eldon, E. Durham, L. Bp. Ruthven of Gowrie, L.
Lindsay, E. [Teller.] Saltoun, L.
Lovelace, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Stuart of Wortley, L.
Lucan, E. Sumner, L.
Mount Edgcumbe, E. Desborough, L. Templemore, L.
Wharton, L.
Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.) Haldane, V. Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)
Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Oxford, L. Bp. Hemphill, L.
Airlie, E. Southwark, L. Bp. Lyell, L.
Beauchamp, E. Muir Mackenzie, L.
Oxford and Asquith, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Parmoor, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.] Clwyd, L. Sandhurst, L.
Crawshaw, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Astor, V. [Teller.] Darling, L. Stanmore, L.
Thomson, L.

House with practically no alterations. It comes to your Lordships' House with only two operative clauses, and what they effect is this. They would give to the ordinary wild birds, to which we are accustomed in England, further protection beyond that which many Acts of Parliament have already conferred upon them. There is hardly any of your Lordships who would not be inclined to extend such protection to these birds.

When one arrives in England from the Continent one of the first things we notice is the extraordinary difference in the number and volubility of the birds of these islands. That is no doubt largely secured by the protection which the Legislature has accorded them. If one wanted to give a picture of absolute and utter desolation one could hardly find better words than those with which your Lordships are no doubt familiar:— The sedge is withered from the lake And no birds sing. There are many of your Lordships, and one noble Lord in particular, one of the chief ornaments of the Opposition Bench, whom I am sorry not to see here to-day, who have passed much of your time in listening to what the birds have to say to us. My noble friend, I have very little doubt, has derived as much profit from what the birds have said to him as the birds derived from what St. Francis said to them. This Bill would ensure that there is even less interference than at present with these wild birds.

Let me explain it in a few words. The first clause makes it illegal to use a live decoy bird, secured by means of braces, or any bird which is blind or maimed and therefore unable to get away, for the purpose of taking wild birds alive. It would not interfere with those who desire to use a decoy for the purpose of destroying such destructive things as wood-pigeons. A farmer who has to kill wood-pigeons which devour his crops would not be affected by this Bill at all. The Bill also deals with the particularly cruel device for catching birds by the use of bird lime. From the little experience I have I should have thought it was impossible to catch a bird with bird lime, but skilful people do it and in large numbers. The other House of Parliament is satisfied of that by evidence, and they have made it an offence under the first clause.

The second clause provides that birds shall not be cruelly confined. They must be confined in a cage which allows them to stretch their wings and take such exercise as a cage bird might desire to take I regret to say that the only opposition I fear from the Government may occur with regard to this clause. It is no fault of mine, but I am aware that the noble Lord who represents the Home Office in this House is greatly perturbed by the occurrence in this clause of a split infinitive, and your Lordships know that if this was a Money Bill you could not, even in Committee, put it right: it would have to remain. The House which passed it is like the Emperor Sigismund—supra grammaticam. You could not enforce any rule of syntax; but I hope the Home Office, as represented here, will be as indulgent as the Home Office was in the other House. Let me say that I am in no way responsible for this lapse. It has been pointed out to mo by two members of your Lordships' House, one on this side and one on the other, and, as I have said, it has not escaped the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, who represents the Home Office here.

With these words I would ask your Lordships to allow the Bill to be read a second time, and I do express the hope that it will not be necessary to amend it in Committee, because those who introduced it in the other House know that if any Amendment is made here it will probably prevent the Bill from becoming law during this Session. Accordingly, bad as its grammar is—there is another defect which I have not revealed and which the noble Lord has not discovered; it is not exactly of the same kind, but it is a defect all the same—I hope that this will not induce your Lordships to refuse the Bill a Second Beading.

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


My Lords, I rise to support this Bill. It is a very melancholy sight to see a human being imprisoned, but I think it is almost as melancholy to see a bird imprisoned. Personally, I wish that most caged birds were not caged. The chief birds which are taken by bird catchers in this country are bullfinches, larks and goldfinches—all birds that love the open country, and anything that prevents this outrage going on should, I think, have our support. I simply wish to say that I support the noble Lord and that I am quite sure that the House will pass this Bill, and to point out how much it is needed to stop the depredations of the bird catchers.


My Lords, I also support this Bill. The only point concerning which I should like to ask for information concerns subsection (1) of Clause 2, which says that a bird shall have room "to freely stretch its wings" [...] that no doubt is easy to interpret—"and exercise itself." I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would be prepared to give a judicial decision as to the amount of space required by, say, a lark in which "to freely exercise itself."


My Lords, I have been asked to express the opinion of the Home Office with regard to this Bill which, following many other Bills of a similar character, has passed unanimously through all its stages in the House of Commons, but I must say that I was very much surprised when I came to Clause 2, to which allusion has been made, to find that this Bill, so eloquently supported by my noble and learned friend, says, among other things, that you have to permit a bird "to freely stretch its wings and exercise itself." That the noble Lord, with his artistic, literary and juridical experience, should have fathered this Bill in your Lordships' House was to me, when I came to this clause, a matter of some surprise, and I will only say that, although the Bill has been passed unanimously by the House of Commons, we still have the House of Lords to correct their grammar. As those who are responsible for this Bill are very anxious that no alteration should be made for fear of what may happen in another place, I do not propose to suggest any Amendments either to Clause 2 or any other clause. The Home Office has the very greatest pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of a Bill which is sent up to it by the unanimous consent of another place.


My Lords, I must confess that I feel a good deal of hesitation in regard to subsection (1) of Clause 2. I do think that we ought to have some clear definition of what is meant, and we are the more entitled to it because the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, clearly led us to understand that the support for this Bill comes from those who wish to see no birds kept in capitivity at all. That seems to me to be going to an extreme which public opinion is hardly prepared to support at the present moment. I can imagine any magistrate before whom a case was brought finding himself in very great difficulty if he were asked to say that a canary or a starling was or was not permitted—in the bad grammar to which reference has been made—"to freely exercise itself." That a bird like a starling should have plenty of room to exercise itself freely means a very large cage indeed, and I do hope, since the Home Office has on this occasion entirely abrogated its function of criticising the legislation which comes through both Houses of Parliament, that when we come to the Committee Stage some Amendment may be put down to make the point quite clear.

I would venture to press upon the noble Lord who represents the Home Office that he should point out to this Office that it really is not a satisfactory state of things that legislation which they know to be badly drafted should be allowed to pass either House of Parliament when they have the power of altering it. It is a very frequent thing that members of your Lordships' House complain that there is no power left to this House except that of revising. If this House is going to abandon this power, it seems to me that our functions may be even smaller than they have been claimed to be in the past. Whatever the results may be, I venture to hope that there will be considerable discussion in Committee and that some Amendment will be moved to this clause making it quite clear, so that when these matters come before the police court magistrates shall not be in any difficulty as to the meaning of Parliament when this Bill was passed.


My Lords, I hope that this House will not waste its time upon this so-called mistake of grammar. In regard to this dogma of the split infinitive I must confess myself a complete heretic. The Dean of St. Paul's lately collected in a very interesting essay a large number of precedents in which English authors of the greatest fame and repute, upon whose writings the best traditions of the English language are founded, frequently made use of this form of words, which has been most recklessly called this afternoon a piece of bad grammar. For my part I believe that this dogma was entirely an invention of governesses and pupil teachers.


My Lords, I will only say that the noble Earl opposite and the noble Lord sitting behind me have called attention to what may undoubtedly be considered a defect in this Bill. It might be difficult even for the Lord Chancellor, if the case came up here, to say exactly what was the meaning of the expression about a bird being allowed freely to exercise itself. Whether, if someone had con- fined in a cage a skylark, it could possibly freely exercise itself except outside the cage, I should not have been prepared without consideration to decide when I was a Judge, and I would not attempt to decide it now. That is, I admit, a grave question, worthy of the consideration of this august assembly, and, if the House considers that the Bill has to be amended in Committee, there might then be no ground for not allowing the Home Office freely to exercise itself by proposing that the words should run To permit the said bird freely to stretch its wings instead of To permit the said bird to freely stretch its wings. I am afraid, after what the noble Earl has said, that this Bill must be amended in Committee, but I hope it may, at all events, be read a second time.

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