§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Danesfort.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, on the Motion for the House to go into Committee 862 on this Bill I desire to make a statement to the House. Your Lordships will remember the circumstances under which this Bill was given a Second Reading in Your Lordships' House. In 1921 an Act was passed prohibiting the import into this country of certain classes of feathers. There was nothing laid down as to existing stocks; but I believe an Amendment was moved in another place to forbid the sale of these particular classes of feathers. That was resisted, and, therefore, the Legislature deliberately intended that the existing stocks of these prohibited feathers in this country should be allowed to be sold. This Bill, brought in seven years afterwards, forbids the selling of these particular classes of feathers; indeed, it rather severely puts the onus upon the shopkeeper, or whoever is exposing them for sale and selling them, of showing that he is innocent. He is presumed in fact to be guilty of selling prohibited plumage unless he can prove himself to be innocent; that is to say, that the feathers were imported before 1921.
There was some difference of opinion and some difference in statement of fact, I think, between the Government side and those who promoted the Bill. Certain facts were brought forward by my noble friend Lord Danesfort, as to the smuggling of feathers into this country, and statements were also made as to the selling in certain places of feathers that had been smuggled: in fact the discussion really turned upon whether these facts as to smuggling were true or not. It is quite clear that if there has been no smuggling during the last seven years it must follow that only existing stocks in this country are being sold, and if that is the case no one would wish, I presume, to go any further. My noble friend Lord Salisbury, the Leader of the House, said that there was a good deal of difference of opinion upon this point and that if we accepted the Second Reading that afternoon it must be on the express understanding that we could not allow the Bill to go forward until this extraordinary conflict of evidence had been resolved. I have some further information upon that subject to-day. The matter has been carefully looked into by the Board of Trade and also by the Customs, and I am anxious to place the results of that investigation at the earliest possible 863 moment before the House. I do not desire to wait until the Third Reading, because I hope that these facts may be present in the minds of your Lordships when you approach the Third Reading. You can then decide, with all the facts before you and the additional ones which I hope to state this afternoon, what attitude you should take on the Third Reading.
We can deal, I think, with certain figures that have been published in reply to a Question by Sir William Davison in another place. Those figures set forth the number of seizures of these prohibited feathers during the last few years—1925, 1926 and 1927. When I looked at these papers I was myself a little deceived. I said: "But there seems to be a considerable number of these seizures." Then it was explained to me that seizures did not mean smuggling, that all they meant was that these were all the arrests or seizures by the Customs of any feathers—single feathers or birds or skins or what not—that came through the Customs during those years. It does not at all mean that they were smuggled. On the contrary, I shall be able to show that the great bulk—in fact very nearly all—of these feathers was brought in whether for trade purposes or for individuals, and were not smuggled but were perfectly openly brought in and declared so that no one can suggest there is any desire or determination to evade the law. I hope your Lordships will consider this question in the light of the general situation. What is the motive for smuggling? The motive for smuggling, as a rule, is that the particular article—brandy or whatever it is—has to pay a heavy duty and if you get it in without paying a duty you can very often make profit out of it, but if, as I say in this case, not only is there no duty but there is no market, and if nobody wants to buy these things when they are brought in, surely it is not very likely that people are going to take the trouble of incurring the very heavy penalties from the Customs by trying to smuggle these articles into the country.
Your Lordships showed, if I may say so, considerable knowledge on the Second Heading. Unfortunately I was not myself able to be present then, but I have read the debate. Your Lordships showed considerable knowledge of women's fashions and many points arose 864 on that subject, but it was quite clear that, as the result of change of fashion or as the result of the prohibition or as the result of the emotion which had arisen in females' minds of possible cruelty by wearing these feathers, the business fell almost dead and nobody wore feathers. It is said that that is due to some transactions going on in Paris. I would not like to be dogmatic on the subject, but at any rate from that time there was no encouragement for anybody to run the risk of importing these feathers, because women's fashions had entirely changed and there was no necessity to bring the feathers in. I may add that that change has fallen very severely on those who had imported feathers before 1921, because they have been unable to dispose of their stocks, and it is for that reason, I think, that some of your Lordships who have examined these things and have seen feathers in the shops have assumed that they must have been imported since the year 1921. Let me deal, if I may, with some of these figures. I will give the figures for the years 1925, 1926 and 1927 separating private importation from trade importation. For the year 1925 there were 171 cases of private importation, 48 of trade and the total seizures, therefore, were 219. In 1926 the numbers of private importations were 142, trade 26, total 168. In 1927 the numbers were 173 and 17 and the total 190. Dealing with trade importations—and that is really the subject upon which we are engaged this evening—your Lordships will have observed that the numbers have fallen from 48 in 1925 to 17 last year.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am giving the total number of what are technically called seizures by the Customs during the years 1925, 1926 and 1927. As a matter of fact they are stated in answers and I have added them together and examined them. I am going to make this broad statement to your Lordships. You were, I think, very much impressed by certain cases brought forward by my noble friend Lord Danesfort. There were two cases especially. I think one was the grebe and the other the case of feathers being brought here in a portmanteau. Those were no doubt two bad cases of attempted smuggling during the last seven years and they were the only bad cases. I will 865 deal with them in a moment, but I want to state that, as regards the other imports, I am told by the Customs that practically the whole of the other imports and seizures were not smuggled at all, but were declared. Therefore there was no intention whatever of smuggling these articles in. I could give an account of each one but I do not want to detain your Lordships.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Declared by trade people and a great many of them sent to this country on commission by people in other countries who were not aware of the particular kinds of birds which were prohibited. That ignorance has prevailed very largely among individuals. There are numerous cases in which these feathers were sent by people to their friends, partly in ignorance of the law and partly thinking that the Board of Trade or the Customs had power to give them exemption or a licence in certain cases. But the general effect of the whole of the evidence given me by the Customs is this: they say there is no evidence except in these two cases of smuggling of any substance at all into this country. The great case is, I think, the grebe case and that was dealt with rather fully by my noble friend Lord Danesfort. That is very unlikely to occur again.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am going to explain. It is not likely to occur again because it was imported by a body which no longer functions in this country. It was imported by a firm called Arcos. I think your Lordships are aware that that firm is no longer carrying on its transactions in this country and therefore I think we may fairly set aside its operations.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have two observations to make on that. One is that the Labour Party is not coming in, and the second is that if they do come in do not think that the first thing they will do is to bring back Arcos. That case occurred in 1924. The other case was in 1925. That was a case of the importation of feathers in a portmanteau with a false 866 bottom. That, no doubt, was a grievous and iniquitous offence, but it was discovered. The feathers never got to any shop in this country. The all-seeing Customs, the Argus-eyed Customs discovered the skins. They prosecuted and a very heavy penalty was paid by the gentleman who did it. That disposes of those cases. I have dwelt specially upon those two cases because, quite unconsciously no doubt, my noble friend had given the impression that they were only examples of a great number of importations and that they were typical. I show that they were not typical. They are specific examples of a bad thing that happened but they are not examples of something that happened on anything like a substantial scale. In the second case there were about 400 bundles of osprey feathers, the value of which was about £1,555. Therefore, I think your Lordships may assume, on the statement of the Customs and if you look at this Paper you will see, how few cases there are of any importance.
It is true to say that there is no attempt to smuggle these articles into this country. There was one case, for instance, of 576 millinery mounts which contained, I understand, very small portions of feathers. Your Lordships are no doubt familiar with millinery mounts. In that case a general order was sent out by a firm for millinery mounts. They did not specify any particular class and no doubt it is rather difficult for milliners in every country to remember what feathers are prohibited in this country. There was no concealment about it. The importers asked for examination to take place and it did take place. There was nothing criminal, no smuggling. Everything was perfectly open and above board. So much for the question of smuggling. I dare say that some of my noble friends who feel keenly on this subject may ask: "How do the Customs know there is no smuggling? Perhaps some of them escape." They certainly cannot escape in parcels, because every parcel is opened as it goes through the Customs. But here comes in my noble friend Lord Danesfort. He has watched these feminine fashions for years. He goes about the shops. He tells us so.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Then I think my noble friend has deceived the House. May I read what he said in his speech? He said:—I have seen many of these feathers which have been bought in the last few days—some of them egret feathers, some feathers of birds of paradise, and other prohibited feathers, which have been bought openly in the London shops.Therefore my noble friend says: "I have seen them."
§ LORD DANESFORT
Might I explain to my noble friend, who really, I must say, is under a most ingenuous but probably very sincere misapprehension of what I have done? What I have done is this: I have got competent persons whom I can trust to go to these shops and buy some of these prohibited feathers. They have come back and shown me these very feathers which they have bought. That is exactly what I said in my speech and that is precisely what is true.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Then it is only second-hand information. He sends other persons. He delegates his duties to other persons. I should, however, like to ask my noble friend how does he know whether these feathers were brought in before 1921 or after 1921?
§ LORD DANESFORT
I will tell you at once: because the persons who bought them told me they had bought them and I believed them.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I was not asking when they bought them. My noble friend knows that it is perfectly legal to sell these feathers openly, if they were imported before 1921. The question asked him was how does he know or why does he assert that these feathers were brought in after 1921? That is what I want to know.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
But that is the whole point, because it is perfectly legal to sell these feathers if they were imported before 1921. However, I do not want to be diverted by the personal operations of my noble friend from the point I was 868 going to make. My noble friend in the course of his activities gave to the Board of Trade the names of eleven important shops where he said this nefarious trade was being carried on; that is to say, the selling of smuggled feathers brought in after 1921.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My noble friend must not misrepresent me. I am sorry to interrupt, but what I said, or certainly what I intended to say, was that these articles which were in fact feathers of birds which were prohibited from importation under the Bill of 1921 were being sold. I do not say and I do not know when they were imported, but they were feathers prohibited by the Act of 1921.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My noble friend again misunderstands what I said. I did not say he said that in this House but that he gave to the Board of Trade the names of eleven places or shops where these feathers were sold. My statement is entirely correct. The most careful investigation has been made in all these cases. These are not cases selected by the Customs. They were places which my noble friend stated were places where these feathers were sold. The Customs have gone into the cases in the most careful manner and they assure me that they have gone through the books and examined them to find where they came from, and in not one single case has a single feather been brought into this country after 1921. They were all pre-1921 feathers. I take my noble friend on his own ground. I show him on his own ground that there is no evidence whatever of the selling of these prohibited feathers in shops to persons who may acquire them. I think that this really disposes of the point that he made. This error was also, I think, fallen into by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury who, speaking no doubt with considerable knowledge of these matters, told us that it was impossible that feathers could last for seven years and that if they were sold in good condition in the shops they must have been imported since 1921.
I have had a very careful investigation made into this question by persons well qualified to deal with it, as well qualified as is his Grace, and I am informed that the suggestion that feathers in saleable condition could not last for 869 seven years is really an absurdity. I have the evidence of Dr. Percy Lowe, of the Natural History Museum, and of Mr. Stuart Baker, a very well-known and eminent ornithologist, and they are both agreed that if plumage is properly taken care of it lasts almost indefinitely. There is no sign of deterioration in the plumage that has been in the Museum for many years. They say that, even where plumage is not kept under museum conditions, all that is necessary is to protect it against damp, moths and light. I think my noble friend told us of the case of the argus pheasant that had been kept for fifty years. I was given another interesting case in connection with the Crown jewels of the Russian Royal Family. There were some feathers attached to a particular sceptre which had been kept in perfect condition for about two hundred years. I do not want to go back two hundred years but I am ready to deal with ten years.
In order that your Lordships may have some opportunity of seeing the condition of feathers that have been kept for a long time, I have myself brought into this House a bird, an egret, that has been kept for forty years in the Museum. Here it is. If your Lordships care to look at it you will see that the feathers are really in perfect condition and, if it were the custom to wear feathers in hats, I am sure that many of the friends of your Lordships would be perfectly ready to use them. I place this bird on the Table. I cannot leave it on the Table because I have to return it to the Museum. That is an egret, in perfect condition after forty years. I could give any amount of evidence on the subject, but everybody who is familiar with the question of feathers and their preservation knows perfectly well that, if they are properly kept, they last indefinitely, and therefore there is no value or truth in the suggestion that, because these feathers have been prohibited for seven years, there are no stocks of legally imported feathers in this country. Indeed, the likelihood is in quite the other direction. I understand that these places that sell feathers have been in a very bad way. It has been graphically told me that dust is collecting on their ledgers and even on their telephones. That may be a great advantage as showing the effects of the Act of 1921, but it does not show 870 any particular degree of activity in the trade. So much for that aspect of the case.
As regards the powers of the Customs, they are very full indeed, because the penalties in the case of seizure and so on are extremely heavy. Further, if it is brought to the notice of the Customs that any of these prohibited feathers are being imported they have a right to go into these buildings and seize the feathers. Accordingly I do not think that any further powers of seizure are required. There are one or two other interesting points that I should like to mention. Lord Arnold, in an intervention in the debate, said that the prohibition would encourage ostrich farming. I want to say a word or two about ostrich farming. Unfortunately, that industry has fallen upon very evil days, partly, no doubt, because the change in fashion which operated with regard to most feathers has also operated in the case of ostrich feathers and they have fallen, as it were, into the same calamity. I understand that farmers in South Africa are letting their ostriches run wild and shooting them and there are at present large stocks or ostrich plumage in London which are held by South African farmers.
I am bound to place this point before your Lordships, because it has been very strongly represented to me by the High Commissioner of South Africa that these people have suffered very heavily and that a Bill like this, re-opening the whole subject, might very likely be the final blow to the ostrich trade. I am telling the noble Lord what a competent authority tells me. He may deny it and say that it is not true, but I should not be doing my duty if I did not say how strongly this matter has been pressed on my attention by the High Commissioner of South Africa. The two things seem to run together, and there is a great reaction on the plumage trade because of the prohibited birds. I will not deal further with that point, because I am only giving my information as shortly as I can to your Lordships, but when we come to the Third Reading it may be necessary to go into it in more detail.
The last point that I have to submit to your Lordships is this. If there is no evidence of smuggling, if, after all the investigations that have taken place into 871 the selling of these feathers, it is shown that those who sell them are perfectly innocent, if we consider the powers exercised by the Customs, is it really necessary to create this offence and say that anybody—not a body like the Customs, acting on the discovery in parcels and so on, but any common informer—can at any moment take before the magistrate perfectly reputable persons and put them to the task of proving their innocence with regard to the sale of these feathers? I submit to your Lordships that this is really hard dealing and a blow to a trade which is quite legitimate, because the State has decided that these people may sell their existing stocks. Naturally no reputable firm is going to put itself into the position of being brought before a court and having to prove its innocence merely because it is selling these feathers.
Real hardship, I think, would be inflicted on these people, and that fact, coupled with the case of the South African feathers, seems to suggest that it is not only unnecessary but really unjust for your Lordships, considering the whole circumstances of the case, to add this fresh and special penalty and create this offence. Those really are the facts as I have gathered them from the Board of Trade Returns. I was anxious to submit them to your Lordships at the first possible moment. I am not going to ask you to divide on this Motion, but having these facts in your minds and other facts being present to your Lordships—we want to be fair and to do justice and to prevent these feathers being imported—I thought you might possibly be in a better position to decide what your attitude would be and what the Government attitude would be on the Third Reading when we come to that stage.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, Lord Peel has made a most interesting Second Reading speech which might appropriately have been delivered on that occasion and which, with still greater propriety, might be delivered upon the Third Beading. From what he has just said I gather that he wants to make an impression upon your Lordships' minds before you come to the Third Reading.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that is hardly fair. I said frankly and fairly that I thought I ought to put the facts before 872 your Lordships at the first possible moment. What may be the effect upon your Lordships depends upon your own minds.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I do not wish to have a personal altercation with my noble friend, but I merely suggest that it would have been more regular to put the facts before the House on the Second Reading or to wait until the Third Reading, which would be the normal time. It is not a personal question between us—we have been excellent friends on other occasions—and if I have exhibited an undue degree of heat in endeavouring to correct my noble friend upon personal matters, I wish to apologise to him and to the House, because it is really not a personal question at all. I am not going to follow my noble friend's example and make a Second Reading or Third Reading speech in answer to him. I am not going to do that for two reasons: firstly, because it would be more convenient to make such a speech upon the Third Reading, and secondly, because I did not come to this House expecting any opposition to the Bill on the Committee stage, and therefore I did not bring with me the papers which deal with many of the matters which my noble friend has touched upon, not expecting those matters to be raised to-day.
There are, however, one or two things which he said that I think require immediate answer. May I remind your Lordships what is the nature of the Bill? It really is simply a corollary of the Act passed in this House and the other House in 1921, prohibiting the importation of the feathers of certain birds. This present Bill simply carries out the intention of that Act, which was to protect the plumage of certain birds, and says that when you find plumage of that prohibited character being sold here you should forbid the sale, giving, of course, the person concerned with the sale an opportunity of saying that the plumage had been brought, in before 1921. The whole object of this Bill is to make the Act of 1921 effective, by prohibiting not merely the importation but the sale of these feathers. Since the Bill was before your Lordships' House some few weeks ago a list has been given in another place, to which my noble friend very properly referred, of the prohibited plumage which had been brought into 873 this country, and which had been seized by the Customs during the last three years.
The heading of the list, which I do not think my noble friend read, is as follows:—The following is a list of birds, the plumage of which has been illegally imported and confiscated by the Customs authorities under the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act, 1921,for the years in question. If you will look at that list you will see that it is a very formidable one. You will find it on columns 187 to 194 of the louse of Commons OFFICIAL REPORT for the 18th of this month. There you will find that the number of egret wings and millinery mounts is exceedingly large, numbering in some cases thousands.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I did not say skins. They are single feathers, and the period in question is the second half of the year 1926. Birds of paradise are not numerous, but the number is substantial, right up to last year. Then kingfishers—"articles containing small pieces of feather"—are also substantial, and in the year ending December last the number of these prohibited kingfisher feathers imported was no less than 93. Then, if you look at pheasants' and peacocks' feathers, the number is very large. It is a formidable list, and naturally my noble friend was anxious to discount it as far as he could.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Shall SI then say "explain it"? I wish to give a case which my noble friend cannot discount. There was the case in 1924 of the 136,000 skirts attempted to be smuggled into this country.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Yes, the Arcos case. They were captured and confiscated. My noble friend seems to think that because Arcos has been shut up no one will ever again attempt such an improper thing as Areas did, but if it was worth while for Arcos to try to smuggle in these skins in 1924, is it not exceedingly 874 likely, I ask, that some equally reckless body will try to do the same, if there is a sale for such articles?
§ LORD DANESFORT
Let me ask this question. If there was not a sale for these articles in 1924, why should they bring them in? The same remark applies to all these illegally imported articles. No one would try to bring them in, knowing that they were liable to be confiscated, unless they knew that they were going, if successful, to make a profit out of it, and that there was a sale for such articles here. When my noble friend says that no one will ever again attempt such a thing as Arcos unsuccessfully attempted in 1924, I think he ignored really the legitimate inference to be drawn from that action. Then there was a very much worse case, which even my noble friend did not attempt to defend, of the importation of egrets.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Lord must not say that. I defend nothing which is illegal. I admitted those two wrongful cases, but I said that other cases were declared.
§ LORD DANESFORT
He did not attempt to defend, because it was indefensible. The facts of that last case were these. The egret feathers were seized by the Customs House authorities in June or July, 1925. They were of the value of £1,555. They are the 335 hundles of feathers referred to in this list, and to which the note was that they "formed the subject of legal proceedings against the importer, who was fined £50 in London." Those were caught. Can my noble friend say that there were no similar cases where they were not caught? In this particular case they were put in the false bottom of some box, which came from Japan, professing to bring in something entirely different. Why were they brought in? Of course they were brought in—illegally, as we all know—because there was a sale for them, or the person who brought them in believed there was a sale for them. And surely my noble friend will not contend that there has been no case in which these goods were not discovered. There is no reason to think that they were discovered in every case. My noble friend gave a list of the seizures in 1925, 1926, and 1927. He did not give 875 us the value of those seizures. It is perhaps not very important, but in the case of these egret feathers this one consignment was of the value of £1,555.
My noble friend's comment on this case was that it was not a typical case at all. I really do not know why he says that. It was a very remarkable case, but how many similar cases there were which were not discovered I really do not pretend to say. Then he says that if there is no smuggling and no sale there is probably no case for the Bill. But undoubtedly there is smuggling; in some cases the smugglers have been caught. I have no doubt that in a great many other eases they have not been discovered. I think your Lordships will be satisfied that there was a very large number of cases where attempts were made to bring these feathers into the country, and what I want to know is why, unless there was a sale for them in this country, any one should send them in. Then my noble friend says that, as regards the feathers which have been sold by firms of which I gave some names, they were in every case pre-1921 feathers. I have some important evidence which I will produce on the Third Reading—I think that the appropriate time—which will show that people are selling these feathers to-day, and stating at the time that they are feathers which have been smuggled in since 1921, the sale of which ought undoubtedly to be stopped. I really hesitate to discuss this exhibit which my noble friend produced of a bird which he says is forty years old. How does he know that? Has he watched this bird for forty years?
§ LORD DANESFORT
I am glad he has got that evidence, because he commented with some slight asperity upon my statement and upon the fact that I did not go into the shops myself and buy the feathers, that I contented myself with looking at the feathers after they had been bought. However, that is a relatively small matter. It is possible by great care to keep feathers a lifetime—it is possible to keep clothes a lifetime. But to tell me that none of these feathers which are being brought into 876 this country and sold have been brought in since 1921 is really a draft on the credulity of your Lordships' House which I hope will not be accepted.
The last point is the question of the ostriches. The importation of ostrich feathers was expressly permitted by the Act of 1921. Ostrich feathers were taken out of the prohibition, and they are being brought into this country and sold, according to the fashion I have no doubt, without any difficulty whatever. My noble friend says he is informed by the High Commissioner for South Africa that the passage of this Bill—which has nothing to do with ostriches, but only with illegally imported plumage—would interfere with the sale of ostrich feathers in this country. I am bound to say, notwithstanding the great authority of the High Commissioner, that I find a great and almost insuperable difficulty in believing that. However, I leave it to your Lordships to make your own inferences. At any rate, what I say to-day is that my noble friend has endeavoured to put facts before your Lordships which would induce you on the Third Reading perhaps to reconsider your decision. I hope you will do nothing of the kind, and I am quite confident that when any further evidence which may be necessary is brought by the promoters of this Bill your Lordships will have no hesitation in coming to the same decision as you did on the last occasion.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, I was unfortunately abroad when the Second Reading of this Bill took place, and therefore I had no opportunity of speaking upon it. I should have liked to do so, because during the last five years I have been Chairman of the Statutory Committee which was created under the Act in order to look into the whole question of the Schedule and the illegal importation of these birds' skins. I thought perhaps the best way of taking part in the debate would have been on this Motion to go into Committee. On further consideration, however, I understood that that is not a very common procedure in your Lordships' House, and therefore I thought I would speak on the Third Reading. But my noble friend Lord Peel has made what has been described as a Second Reading speech. I listened to him with great care, but I do not propose to discuss the points he has raised on 877 the present occasion, as I think it would be more fitting to do it on the Third Reading.
I thought he made a very powerful statement against the Bill, but all the facts and figures which he gave are familiar to me, because the whole of them have been before the Committee of which I am Chairman, made out at the instigation and for the information of that Committee, and I feel sure that I am not treating him with any discourtesy if I reserve what I have to say in comment on his speech for the Third Reading. I think it will be more convenient for members of the House if I do so. The speech which he made was, I thought, a much more powerful argument against the Bill than that which was made on the Second Reading by his colleague sitting beside him At the same time, as far as I am concerned it has in no way converted me from the view I hold, and I will venture on the Third Reading to express my views more fully with regard to the Bill.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I was not present on the occasion of the Second Reading, and therefore I listened with great interest, as I always do, to the speech of my noble friend Lord Peel. I understood him to raise four objections to the Bill. The first objection was that there was no market for these feathers, and therefore the Bill was unnecessary; the second objection was that there was no smuggling.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Yes. No smuggling except in those two cases, which were exceptional, and one of which could not occur again unless the Labour Party came into power. The third objection was that feathers imported before 1921 ought to be sold and the fourth was as to the ostrich farms. With regard to no market, what is the object of allowing people to sell feathers which were imported before 1921 if there is no market? There is evidently a market or they could not sell the feathers which were imported before 1921. As to whether there is smuggling, I am not in a position to say very much about that, but I can understand that it is easy for women to bring in feathers in their muffs and in their hats, because they have very little hair now and there must be space between the head and the sort of hat that is worn 878 nowadays. I do not see why they should not put feathers into their hats and I do not suppose that my noble friend's Custom House officials order women to take their hats off to see whether there are feathers in them or not. A man might bring feathers in under his shirt or anywhere. I should have thought it was perfectly easy to tiring in feathers by smuggling.
In regard to the sale of feathers imported before 1921, I have always held that retrospective legislation is bad. Therefore I feel very strongly that people who brought these feathers in before 1921 ought to be allowed to sell them, and I do not think there is any question about it. But as I read the Bill, it does not prevent it. The Bill provides that—it shall be a good defence to proceedings for an offence under this section to prove either—My noble friend did not use this argument, but it might be said that it is contrary to the principles of English law to put it upon a defendant to prove that the case against him is wrong; the case has to be proved by the plaintiff. But in this case there is an Act of Parliament which provides that you must not do certain things. One of those things is that you must not have imported feathers in your possession. Therefore, it is perfectly consistent with the principle of English law to say: "You have some feathers in your possession; you ought not to have had them in your possession unless they were imported before 1921, and you must prove that." Therefore I do not see that there is any harm done or that the people who imported these feathers before 1921 will suffer anything if this Bill is passed.
- "(i) That the plumage had not been imported since the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act, 1921, came into operation, or
- (ii) That all reasonable precautions had been taken by the person proceeded against to satisfy himself that the plumage had not been imported since the said Act of 1921 came into operation."
In regard to the ostrich feathers, according to my noble friend Lord Danes-fort, ostrich feathers are not included in the Bill. Therefore, instead of doing harm to the ostrich farmers the Bill will do good. If the plumage of other birds is not imported and women want feathers they will buy ostrich feathers, which are 879 the only feathers they can get. Therefore, in those circumstances, unless anything very different arises on the Third Reading, I shall support the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, I rather agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. We have to consider the sources of supply as well as the imports into the home market. There is no doubt that in the Pacific, which is the main source of supply, the killing of birds for their plumage has been carried to very great excess in the past. Not only birds but animals like the platypus, that very interesting duck-billed animal, have been put upon the black list and the plumage and skins of animals or birds killed before a certain date are still allowed to be sold until the stocks are disposed of. There is very little doubt in my mind that a good deal of killing still goes on despite legislation. The interesting point, I think, is to secure that the stocks already held are not increased by imports of more recently killed birds or animals. I doubt whether all the feathers that come into this country are imported in cases. They come in much smaller parcels in considerable quantities and they are not always seized by the Custom House.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
I have known of a great many brought into this country by many people-I do not say in large quantities, but undiscovered by the Custom House. I think it would be very desirable to come to some sort of understanding as to the approximate date at which these stocks will be exhausted. The supporters of the Bill have, perhaps, gone too, far in saying that feathers and plumage cannot be kept for a long time in perfect condition. They can be kept for a very long time and in perfect condition. I sympathise with what my noble friend has said about allowing, the stocks to be disposed of, but I hope that those who are responsible for legislation and the enforcement of it will keep a sharp eye against evasion, because I am sure that in this case there is a good deal of evasion at the sources of supply in the Pacific and, I fancy, some evasion here also.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.880
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Bill reported without amendment.