HL Deb 22 February 1927 vol 66 cc158-64

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill reproduces in exact language certain clauses from a measure that received your Lordships' approval last year. That Bill was called the Wild Birds Protection Bill and contained a very large number of provisions for the general protection of wild birds. In its course through Committee I moved the clauses that I have now incorporated into this snort Bill. After some discussion in a House that was well attended there was no dissent and the clauses were passed as I had drawn them. That Bill met a rather unfortunate fate. It was introduced on behalf of the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, and passed this House in abundant time to enable it to be considered in another place, but there were other matters which probably it was thought were more pressing and this unfortunate Bill never had a chance of passing into law. I cannot help thinking that when people are discussing the different ways of reforming this House somebody might consider whether Bills that have passed this House should not be as secure of audience in another place as Bills that have passed in another place are secure of audience here. At any rate this Bill never had an opportunity and unless something is done, and done quickly, it is probable that it will lie in the wastepaper basket whose ample embraces receive such a large number of measures that pass through this House.

The Bill itself is of the utmost simplicity. It provides that it shall be unlawful to sell the eggs of this plover, or to have any bird in possession for human consumption within a limited period of time. The prohibition against the sale of eggs is absolute while the other is limited. Those committing the offence are liable to be punished on summary conviction on the first offence by a fine of £5, and on the second by a fine of £10, or imprisonment not exceeding one month. As I have said, these words are the very words in which the Bill passed your Lordships' House last year. My first point—and I think that every one of your Lordships will agree—is that the lapwing is a bird of exceptional use for all agriculturists. I do not think that even the most malignant slanderer of birds has ever had a word to say against the beneficent activities of the lapwing. It spends the whole of its time when it is not flying in eating leatherjackets, wire-worms, slugs, snails and every conceivable form of agricultural pest. It really has no vegetarian diet at all and I cannot help thinking that, it must be a complete refutation of the views of a large school of modern dietetics.

That the bird's value is recognised is quite clear. I find that in the debates that took place last year it was stated in this House that the Farmers' Unions were all in favour of this Bill and the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, whose experience must be very large, said that he had prevented the taking of eggs over the whole of his estates, so far as he could, and added that it was no use trying to preserve the plover unless the sale of eggs was prohibited. That is perfectly true. That the bird is decreasing is also a fact, as I think every one here who knows anything of the countryside will recognise. My noble friend Viscount Grey of Fallodon, whose experience in these matters is absolutely unrivalled, said in the last debate: My point is that, in the part of the country that I know, where in the autumn flocks of lapwings used to cover the fields and were numbered by thousands, now they are only numbered by dozens. Everybody knows that Lord Grey is not a person to use the language of exaggeration. That the bird is decreasing, therefore, must be known to every one of us and the question is whether or not its decrease should be permitted.

There is nothing that can be said in favour of this wholesale destruction of plover's eggs except that they please a few people's palates. There is nothing more in it than that. The only suggestion that has ever been urged so far as I can see, in favour of the continuance of permitting these eggs to be sold, is that the eggs that are taken are the first set of eggs and that they would be destroyed by the ordinary agricultural operations of rolling and harrowing. In the first place, the places where the plovers lay are not exclusively confined to places that are harrowed and rolled. There are large stretches of moors, meadows and waste places haunted by plover where no roller or harrow has ever been seen or heard of. The next point is that you do not preserve the bird by enabling the first set of eggs to be taken because if, as is assumed, the plover lays again—it is an assumption that. I do not think anybody can make from personal knowledge; but if plovers do so, as many birds do, it is quite certain that they lay again directly, and if you permit the eggs to be taken the only result will be that the second lot of eggs will be taken as well as the first. It is quite plain that within the limits of time within which these eggs are sold there would be plenty of opportunity for taking all the eggs that are laid. Further, if the eggs are disturbed by the harrow it must be remembered that the birds will lay again and, since the fields are not harrowed and rolled twice over, the second set of eggs will be allowed to come to maturity.

Apart from that point I have never heard any one suggest that this taking of eggs is otherwise than mischievous and a destruction of the bird, and, if the bird is useful for farmers—and there is not a single person who denies that fact—it is surely time that steps should be taken to protect it and save it from the wholesale destruction of its nests. These eggs are not used for purposes of food, they are not taken in the interests of science, they are not even destroyed in the pursuit of sport; they are simply taken in order to provide the temporary gratification of rich people's palates for a few weeks in the year, and surely no one can set that use against the general agricultural interest in preserving the birds or against that which I admit is, to my mind, a thing of equal value—namely, the preservation of a creature of astonishing beauty and charm. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, perhaps it would be convenient if I expressed the views of the Home Office at once in reply to the eloquent speech of my noble friend, whose return to this House is welcomed by noble Lords of all shades of opinion. My only hope is that his enthusiasm in his crusade for the plover will not have any evil effects. With regard to the Bill that my noble friend has brought forward, it is, as he has just informed the House, almost in identical terms with those portions that related to the lapwing of the Bill that I had the honour to introduce to the House last Session, and I can assure him that I share to the full his regrets that the measure did not meet with a more favourable reception, or rather, met with no reception at all in another place.

In regard to the Bill itself, there is no intention on the part of the Home Office either to oppose its Second Reading or even to offer any considerable criticism upon it, although there are one or two points on which, if this Bill goes into Committee, they would have to offer a few suggestions. The only difficulty with regard to the Bill is that, as I have no doubt my noble friend is aware, there is in another place a Bill identical with the Bill which passed this House last Session. It is down for Second Reading on March 25 and it must be obvious that there would be a certain amount of inconvenience if the greater Bill, which includes the lesser Bill, and the lesser Bill were to proceed pari passu. Nevertheless the Government have no opposition to offer to a Bill which contains provisions with which they have expressed their absolute concurrence. With regard to some of the remarks of a gastronomical nature with which the noble Lord has regaled the House, I do not think the position is quite as simple as he thinks and no doubt honestly believes.

As to taking the first clutch of plover's eggs ornithological opinion in this country is absolutely divided. There are a number of high authorities who maintain, rightly or wrongly, that to take the first clutch of plover's eggs tends to increase plovers instead of diminishing them. I happened to meet on my way down to the House the Chairman of the Scottish Committee, and he stated that, especially in Scotland, on great moorlands, the first clutch of plover's eggs seldom comes to any good; it is exposed to early frost, the young chicks hatch out at a time when there is very little insect food, and all chicks, whether ducks, chickens, pheasants or partridges, as the noble Lord well knows, very largely depend upon insect food in the early stages of their lives. A friend of my own, who lives in Cumberland and has more experience of breeding ducks in enormous quantities semi-wild than anyone I know, tells me that he makes it a practice, in order to increase the number of ducks, to destroy the early eggs before a certain time because he says they come to no good and the efforts of their parents would therefore be wasted.

I give these instances to show that without being greedy it is just possible to maintain that there is a doubt whether leaving the first clutch of eggs is wholly beneficial to the increase of the species. This has been argued over and over again before Committees by those who know a great deal about it and, as I have said, ornithological opinion remains about equally divided. When the Bill was first introduced last Session the first clutches were allowed to be taken, but in view of the representations which were then made by my noble friend that part of the Bill was altered and he moved the plover into the category of those birds which were wholly protected during the whole of the nesting season. That provision remains the same in this Bill and it is also in the Bill which very shortly is going to be discussed in another place. I hope that that Bill will come before this House. Having made these few remarks I only wish on behalf of the Government to say that they certainly would not think of opposing the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord, Lord Des-borough, for the very kind expressions he used about myself and to assure him and the House how deeply I appreciate them. For the rest I would just like to say one or two words about the situation which certainly is to me novel. I did not know that another Bill was going to be considered on Second Reading in another place on March 25, and I should still, even although I have the noble Lord's assurance, like to be quite certain that none of those hazards which await a Bill in another place is going to overtake it.


It is a Private Member's Bill.


Then I certainly think, having regard to the difficulties attending a Private Member's Bill, that we had better proceed with our own Bill. Even supposing the Commons Bill were to proceed, it will not make the least bit of difference, so far as my Bill is concerned, because if my Bill is passed all they will have to do is to omit certain clauses, which are the same as the clauses in my Bill, from their Bill, or to incorporate them. My Bill does not interfere with the Commons Bill in the least, and unless we proceed with my Bill at once we shall not save these eggs for this season, and it seems to me that time being so important we should proceed urgently with this matter. Let me say one word about the conflict of view about the taking of the first clutch of eggs. How are you going to earmark eggs on the ground?


A date will be given.


If you take the first clutch the second clutch will be then due. One thing which is certain is that the second clutch comes immediately after the first. There is no pause, and therefore to fix a time which will enable you to take the first clutch and leave the second is a thing which cannot be done. If in truth this arrangement, by which poulterers' shops are stacked with these eggs in the spring, does not interfere with the plover, why have these birds disappeared? The plover has very few external enemies. The vermin which might eat the eggs are kept down pretty well and there is nothing which has happened in the last twenty years to affect the numbers of these birds excepting this increasing egg-taking. When you have the fact that people like the Duke of Buccleuch, who knows so much about this subject, and the Farmers' Union, do want to have this egg-taking stopped, I think that ornithologists and those who think you might take the first clutch may for once have their opinion disregarded.

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


My Lords, I wish to pass this Bill through as soon as possible, but I do not want to put down the Committee Stage so early as to appear to be rushing it through. If, however, you think I might put down the Committee Stage for Thursday, I should be glad, because it we are going to pass this measure we must do it at once.