HL Deb 29 June 1926 vol 64 cc616-25

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is my duty to move the Second Reading of a Bill which I know is of great interest to many of your Lordships, but, as the main provisions of the Bill have already been explained two years ago and the Bill is substantially the same. I do not propose to weary your Lordships on this occasion by occupying much of your time. The short history of the Bill is that it is based on recommendations of the Departmental Committee for the Protection of Wild Birds, which reported in the year 1919. One of the recommendations of that Committee was that the Home Secretary and the Secretary for Scotland should appoint, respectively, Wild Birds Advisory Committees and that these Committees should advise their Departments on all matters relating to the protection of wild birds. In pursuance of this recommendation Advisory Committees were appointed both for England and Scotland. The Chairman of the Committee for England was Viscount Grey of Fallodon and I very much regret that the noble Viscount is unable to be present here to-day owing to duties elsewhere. Not only do I miss him personally and his support of this Bill, but I should like to pay a tribute to the great work which he has done in preserving rare and most interesting wild birds in this country. I think it is due to his work on this Committee that this Bill in its present state is now placed before your Lordships. The Chairman of the Scottish committee is Mr. H. D. Gladstone, who has also taken a very great deal of interest in this subject and worked very hard for the common end.

I only propose to touch very briefly on a few of the main provisions of the Bill. It is obvious that the ground has already been very closely covered, not only by the Departmental Committee but also by these two Advisory Committees, one for England and one for Scotland, who have had several interviews with all those who are interested, either commercially or otherwise, in the protection and, I may say, the destruction of birds. This Bill is the result of their joint efforts. The Bill is not in any way political, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. Viscount Grey introduced a Bill in 1923 of very much the same character as this measure, and there was a Bill introduced into the House of Commons last year, but it was not successful in getting very far. This Bill is very much the same as that introduced by Viscount Grey of Fallodon. It has been redrafted, but there are no great changes in policy. The Bill is no new scheme for the protection of wild birds. its main object is to simplify the law relating to the matter, to repeal and consolidate existing laws and to make the enforcement of the existing law more easy and sure than it is at the present time.

If your Lordships will look at the end of the Bill you will see that no fewer than nine Acts, passed since 1880, are now to be repealed and this Bill will take the place of those nine Acts. In times gone by a great many local orders have been introduced by local authorities. These local orders are very long, containing the names of an enormous number of birds. They are very difficult to understand and, that being the case, they are very seldom enforced. The main alteration in this Bill is the formation of three categories of birds. That is something new in the law relating to birds. The first category consists of those birds which are very rare and which it is considered advisable in the interest of bird lovers and of lovers of nature should be protected as far as possible in this country. These species of birds nest in this country and under the first category, if this Bill passes into law, they will be absolutely protected both in the nesting season and at all other times. The second category is one in which appear those birds which are British breeding birds but are not very common and are considered to be in need of full protection during the breeding season. The first category protects birds all the time, the second protects birds during the breeding season.

All other birds—and these are not specified—appear in the third category and to a certain extent have to take their chance. These birds do receive protection during the nesting season from the general public, but they are rather common birds and the owner or occupier of land will have the power, if they increase to too great an extent or are injurious to crops, of keeping them down. It is not intended in this Bill to make bird's-nesting in general a criminal offence. It is considered impossible to do so. Powers are given to the police, but it is not proposed, although a great deal is put upon the police, to send them running after every boy or girl who takes thrushes' eggs on his or her way to school. The birds at the present time are not divided into categories and this is a very great alteration. It is hoped by the framers of this Bill that it will not only make the law relating to birds much more comprehensible than at the present time but very much easier to enforce.

Another new provision in the Bill is the extension of the close time from July 1 to August 11. The Departmental Committee took a great deal of evidence on this matter and they came to the conclusion that it was advisable on the whole to have one extended close time instead of different close times for different species. Various county councils have had different close times, but in future there will be one close time, which is to be extended to August 11.

I do not think that I need go into more than one or two of the objections to the present law which will be removed by the provisions of this Bill. One of them relates to bird sanctuaries. At present the sanctuaries are absolutely protected, the good and bad species being on the same footing. One of them is at the Fame Islands, where the general protection has destroyed their value as a sanctuary because equal protection is given to good and bad, the bad being represented in these island by cormorants and black-backed gulls. Under this Bill it will be possible in particular sanctuaries to make such exceptions that the good may be separated from the bad. The Home Secretary and the Secretary for Scotland are empowered to make certain alterations in consultation with their Committees if any particular species gets too numerous or is suspected, with good cause, of doing harm.

Under the present law there is no power to seize a bird of which a person is suspected of being in unlawful possession. Therefore, the suspected delinquent goes away with the bird and then, when he is brought to trial, produces a different bird altogether, and it is very difficult to prove what bird he had at the time when he was arrested. That difficulty is removed by this Bill. There is also reference to taxidermists and others who are found in possession of protected birds. Under the present law it has to be proved that they are unlawfully in possession of those birds. Under this Bill the gentleman suspected has to prove that he is in rightful possession of the bird, skin, nest or egg. There is also power to grant licences for the taking of protected birds or eggs in the furtherance of scientific objects.

There is another new provision in this Bill about which I ought to say a word. It is a provision, about which no doubt we shall hear something in Committee, which forbids the use of mechanically propelled boats or aircraft for the purpose of shooting or destroying birds. On Sundays there is absolute protection of birds. At present there is a sort of local option in this matter; in some areas birds are protected on Sundays and in others they are not. Bird catchers who catch birds and sell them are required to produce a police certificate. A further change in the law is to the effect that imported birds—and I think this is an important point—are not to be liberated without the leave of the Home Secretary. Many countries have suffered a great deal from the amateur importation of different species. Enthusiastic Scotsmen unfortunately introduced thistles into Australia because they could not get on without them. Others introduced into Tasmania an apparently harmless plant, the sweetbriar, which has grown to such an extraordinary extent that there are now vast thickets of sweetbriar and nobody knows how to extirpate them. Watercress also, which seems harmless enough, was introduced into New Zealand, where it has blocked the rivers and caused large swamps.

You have all heard of rabbits in Australia. These rabbits in new circumstances develop new propensities. There are tens of thousands of miles of wire in Australia which are patrolled by rabbit patrols and still the rabbits increase and spread all over the Continent. They have also developed large nails which enable them to climb these fences, which is a thing they cannot do in this country. They also climb trees to eat the leaves in times of drought. That has been one of the results of introducing rabbits into Australia. Various attempts were made to extirpate them, both by natural means and by spreading diseases. Among them was the introduction of 22,000 stoats and ferrets, but the stoats and ferrets very soon got tired of rabbit and began to eat all the small birds. Then they introduced foxes, and the foxes, too, got tired of rabbits and went to lamb and were as great a nuisance as the rabbits. Coming down to birds, we all know that there are sparrows in Australia and in the United States. Sparrows were introduced into Australia and there was a fine of £2 for killing a sparrow or taking a sparrow's egg. Now there are sparrow clubs all over the country and still the sparrows get the best of it. Sparrows were introduced into New England, have spread to Texas and do damage every year to the extent of 5,000,000 dollars. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree that imported birds should not be liberated without leave of the Secretary of State.

There are special provisions also for the protection of the lapwing. I have no doubt that in Committee we shall hear more of the lapwing, both as regards the bird itself and in reference to its eggs. Under this Bill taxidermists will have to keep a register in respect of the two categories of birds. Increased penalties are provided and special provision is made to facilitate the prosecution of offenders and give the police powers of arrest. I think your Lordships will probably agree that there is a universal opinion that the time has now come when there should be a simpler law to protect our rare birds, and although when we come to the Committee stage, and particularly when we come to consider the categories, there will probably be a great difference of opinion, especially among those who know most about birds, I think that the discussion of those differences may well be, left to that stage. I hope that your Lordships will agree regarding the need for a Bill to consolidate the existing law and to make it more comprehensive, and accordingly I trust that you will be good enough to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

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


My Lords, I rise on behalf of various bird societies to say that they support this Bill. It is most important in the interests of the preservation of song birds, birds of beauty and birds which do good to the farmer, that we should have some protection for them. As the noble Lord has said, the law is in a chaotic state at the moment and this Bill does much to remove its present drawbacks. It is thought by many that the matter can be left to itself and that this may be in some respects an anti-democratic measure. But it is nothing of the sort. Nobody rejoices in the songs of birds more than our great democracy, and the establishment of sanctuaries in various parts of the country has been a great joy to every class in the community and has distinctly helped to resuscitate certain species of birds which otherwise would have become extinct. I rise to say, on behalf of these societies, that we welcome the Bill.


My Lords, I do not rise to take any objection to the Second Reading of this Bill as regards the preservation of rare birds. I think that I am as anxious as any one that proper provision should be made for their protection. But there are two points upon which I should like to ask questions of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading. He says that in the main this is a Consolidation Bill. I find on the last page of the Bill that a number of enactments are repealed which I understand the noble Lord says include all enactments at the present time dealing with this matter. I think it is very desirable that we should retain the proper procedure as regards Consolidation Bills. Ordinarily, Consolidation Bills are referred to a Joint Consolidation Committee, which is generally, I think, under the Chairmanship of my noble, friend Lord Muir Mackenzie. That Committee of both Houses is appointed in order to ensure that when you have consolidation it really is consolidation as distinct from new proposals or new provisions in an Act of Parliament. I think that the only way in which you can guarantee the accuracy of Consolidation Bills is to preserve the principle of a Joint Consolidation Committee.

My second point is this. The Bill is not, of course, a Bill for the protection of rare birds only. What is called the third category includes all birds not comprised in either of the other categories. For instance, it includes the sparrow, and the noble Lord said that every year five million dollars worth of damage had been done by the introduction of the sparrow into America. It also includes those farmers' pests, rooks and pigeons. I have had several representations from this point of view. Although, no doubt, the rights of owners and occupiers are safeguarded, yet the general effect of the Bill in including birds of this kind will be very largely to increase their number and the risk of damage. That representation has come particularly from the smaller farmers, who suffer most from the depredations of birds, and I would like to know whether the Ministry of Agriculture is satisfied with the protection given. I have heard great complaints that the protection given will not be adequate, and I should like to know whether the Ministry of Agriculture has been consulted upon a matter of such great importance.


Yes, the Ministry has been consulted and also the National Farmers' Union.


I am glad to hear that, as I have had constant representations that the provision is not adequate. I also want to know what is to be done with regard to consolidation.


My Lords, I sincerely hope and believe that this Bill will receive your unanimous approval. I am in rather a difficult position because I am so ardent a friend of birds that I am very anxious indeed to extend the provisions for their protection which this Bill contains. I would like to ask the noble Lord one or two questions upon it. In the first place there is a most salutary provision which prevents a person from taking birds alive for sale excepting under a certificate. I want to know why a certificate is to be granted at all. What justification is there for taking a wild bird and putting it in a cage? It is one of the most inhuman things that can possibly be done. I hope the noble Lord will see what he can do to modify that provision and if it is passed I hope sincerely we may all be spared the shame and pain of seeing a lark beating against the sides of a twelve-inch cage wings which were meant for the sky.

Then I would like to ask upon what principle this First Schedule has been prepared. I differ entirely from the noble Lord who has just spoken as to the necessity of protecting rare birds only. It is not rare birds but all birds that should be protected, unless their existence is a harm to agriculture. Take one or two birds of singular beauty and of immense value and not harmful to agriculture. Take the tomtit, the long-tailed tit, and, in fact, all the tits. They are not only of great beauty, but spend all their time eating insects which are prejudicial to the trees. Then there is the tree-creeper which spends its time running up the bark of trees and pick- ing out the insects. There is the golden-crested wren and the ordinary wren. They have never done any harm to anybody and nobody can say that the golden-crested wren is not rare. It is a bird that is sufficiently optimistic to sing through every month of the year and I do not know any other bird that does that. In these days, when pessimism seems to increase, it appears to me a pity to decrease our optimists. There are many other birds I might mention and I should really like to know why they are to be exposed to attack.

Then, I specially want to mention the lapwing. It is a horrible thing that this bird, one of our most beautiful and most beneficial, should be sacrificed in thousands every year, not for food but to gratify the palates of epicures in London. I should like to see the sale of plovers' eggs absolutely restricted and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to see his way to afford greater protection than is given at present. In many districts the lapwing is getting very scarce; where they used to be the constant companions of people who are fond of the country they are new very hard to find. I do not want to debate the matter further now, but, possibly, in Committee, I shall be able to ask questions about this and other birds in which I am interested. In the meantime I trust that the noble Lord opposite will consider further whether such birds should not have the full protection which the Bill affords.


With regard to the questions asked me by Lord Parmoor, I should like to consult with him upon the matter of consolidation. This Bill, as I understand, just repeals nine Acts. It is not in any way legislation by reference.


The benefit of consolidation is that you get rid of references.


At all events I would like to consult the noble Lord with regard to this matter. As to the questions of Lord Buckmaster, I do not know that you could absolutely abolish caged birds altogether. I understand that canaries are a great consolation to maiden ladies.


They are not taken wild.


A little while ago I had the honour of introducing a Bill dealing with caged birds, and it contained regulations with regard to birds in captivity. One regulation was that they were to have a cage of sufficient width, height and depth to be able to stretch their wings freely. That Bill passed into law, and although perhaps it is not sufficient to satisfy the noble Lord, it does, I hope, give protection to these birds. With regard to the lapwing, or plover, I have no doubt that we shall have discussion on that bird at a later stage. The Government have an open mind on that matter. The National Farmers' Union, both here and in Scotland, are anxious to protect plovers' eggs altogether. The Departmental Committee went into the matter carefully and did not see their way to go as far as that. I shall take the opinion of your Lordships' House, when we come to that point in Committee, as to what should be done with both the plover and its enemies.


Will the noble Lord reply to my question about the tom-tit?


The tom-tit is protected during the nesting season—it is not one of those rare birds which are specially protected at all times. Of course, there are plenty of tom-tits, and I do not think your Lordships' House or another place would pass a clause which put all birds into the first category. It is for that reason that we have got three categories—the first of birds which are absolutely protected, the second of birds which are partially protected, and the third of birds which are imperfectly protected.

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