HL Deb 23 February 1928 vol 70 cc238-44

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I explained yesterday why it was that I felt myself bound to trouble you to attend to-day and I will not repeat the expressions of regret that I then made. I am most anxious to get this Bill through, and I feel that the real difficulty have to encounter lies in the fact that it is almost impossible to get the debates in this House to penetrate outside the walls of the Chamber. We speak in a muddled atmosphere, and very little of what we say is heard or heeded outside these walls. I feel certain that if I were able to get this case heard before the public, if, indeed, I could get it heard before the Government themselves, I should be able to prevail upon them to adopt this Bill. For how does the matter stand? The Government have pledged themselves to do all in their power to help agriculture. They are quite incapable of redeeming that pledge by any large and heroic measures. There are no legislative means by which, speaking generally and on a large scale, agriculture can be helped except by a system of Protection, which we all know it is impossible to introduce. But though you cannot do great things, there are quite a number of small things that can be done and this Bill is preeminently one.

I have mentioned before, and it is worth while mentioning again, that so grave has the pest of wireworms and leather-jackets become in agricultural districts that the Government were bound, last year, to introduce a Bill which was controversial to enable the extension of the spread of poison to be made for the purpose of killing wireworms. I will undertake to say that if you could only encourage the plover by a mere handful that would do far more than the poisoning can do to extirpate the wireworms. Plovers live on them. I do not suppose it would be an over-estimate to say that one plover would consume 20,000 wireworms in a nesting season. I remember reading a naturalist's account of one tom-tit killing 10,000 caterpillars and I am quite satisfied 20,000 would not be at all an outside figure for a plover to consume in wireworms during the breeding season alone. It would amount to somewhere about 100,000 or so a year. Multiply your plover and what would happen to your wireworms? You would kill them much more effectively than by this extremely dangerous and doubtful method of disseminating poison all over the land. There is the case for the bird. Agricultural societies ask for it.

There is the case for agriculture, which has been supported not only by Lord Bledisloe—whose absence from the Government I regret and whose knowledge of agricultural matters certainly has very few if any rivals in this country—but also by the unanimous opinion of this House, expressed during three Sessions. I know it is easy enough to say: "Oh, it does not really matter what this House does or says." But on a matter like this, I say without fear of contradiction that there is no legislative assembly in the whole world that has anything like the same knowledge and experience of agriculture and of bird life that this House possesses. You could not possibly find a Chamber whose opinion upon a matter like this is more worthy of re- spect and consideration. And this House has done it for three years and done it without a Division. That is the position with regard to the Bill.

Now, what is against it? The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) has always done his best being, I believe, at heart a warm, but I am afraid a rather lukewarm, supporter of the Bill. Still, I think he is with me about it. He has been perfectly fair, though I cannot say he has been very encouraging. He said on the last occasion that there were two outstanding reasons why this Bill could not be proceeded with. He never ventured to suggest that its merits had been opposed by any person hitherto, but he suggested two things. One was that as this was the Bill of a private Peer the Government could not adopt it without rendering themselves open to the suggestion that they ought to take up other people's Bills. I must say I do not quite know what this House is going to do. The debates which we have on various questions are regarded as nothing but debates of a great debating society. The Bills that we have to consider are those that are brought up to us at the end of a Session, when we are told we are to register those Bills as quickly as possible and pass them through in the same kind of way that you might register things on a cash register. The noble Marquess knows it as well as we all do and regrets it. And now we are to be told, even if we introduce a Bill on a matter upon which this House has special knowledge and is peculiarly capable of passing an opinion, that it is no use to do it because the Government cannot take up a Bill introduced by a private Peer and therefore the Bill might just as well not be brought in. Our time is thus wasted. I do not know why it is we should come here at all in those circumstances.

Then the noble Marquess said: "After all, you may get opposition in another place," and though he made no promise—he was careful of that—and though I never want to pin people down literally to the words which they use in the course of debate, when they say things which might sometimes be more fitly expressed, yet he did tell me that if I could secure the representatives of the Opposition in the House of Commons to say this should be a non-controversial Bill the Bill would have a chance. I have taken steps to do that. I have obtained from Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Leader of the Labour Party, a statement in which he refers, as I think with some just resentment, to the idea that his Party would oppose this Bill, and says: "As far as I am concerned I shall do everyhing I can to get your Bill through." I know it may be suggested that a more comprehensive Bird Bill was last year opposed by some of the Labour members, but I think your Lordships should remember that that Bill touched what were regarded as the interests of the fur and feather trade. I make no disguise about my own opinion about those trades. I think they are the most hideous trades that are carried on, they are the most abominable, and are the cause of more needless and horrible cruelty than any trade I know, but you would not always expect a person who is earning his living in a trade to recognise how detestable it may be and to consent readily to his means of living being stopped. That is the explanation of why it was that opposition was forthcoming to the larger Bill. But nothing of that kind happens here. I have not any doubt that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald will be able to do what he promises—everything in his power. Not only is it that he will not oppose this Bill, but he says he will do everything in his power to get it through.

Then I searched for the Liberal Party. They took a little more finding, but I found them at last. When I found them I was assured by the Whips that they had gone round the members of the Party—I think their number is 27—and had inquired from them all and all said that they had never heard such a thing as that they were going to oppose this Bill. So far as the Whips are concerned they told me: "You will get nothing but goodwill from us for this Bill." What is left? Why is this Bill not to go through?—this wise Bill, this needed Bill, this unopposed Bill. What is the reason why such a measure cannot possibly find its place upon the Statute Book? May I suggest to the noble Marquess, if it really is some strange feeling of jealousy about the doctrine of adopting a Bill introduced by a private Peer in another place which stands in the way, that the Government may satisfy themselves by saying: "After all, he has taken it out of our Bill. It is not his own Bill, we were the great people who considered this and brought it forward in our Bill. We, the Government, wanted it passed and we are not going to say now we do not want it passed because a private Peer has interposed between us and the fulfilment of our own desire. We are as anxious to get it through as he is and we will get it through at once." I sincerely and earnestly suggest that it is a most terrible reflection upon our system of legislation if a Bill which nobody says is other than good, if a Bill that nobody says is other than needed, if a Bill that no one suggests is opposed, is utterly incapable none the less of being put on the Statute Book because of the place from which it originated. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Buckmaster.)


My Lords, it is always an immense pleasure to hear the noble and learned Lord speak. I am quite sure your Lordships will feel that you are repaid for having come down here this afternoon, even though the bill of fare provided was rather scanty, by the fact that we have succeeded in provoking the noble and learned Lord to make one of his admirable little speeches. I only wish the whole of the members of the House of Commons had been present to hear him. I may say quite frankly to the noble and learned Lord that I have had every reason on numerous occasions to be very grateful to him for all he has done to help me over a great many years, both since I have been in my present position and before. Anything which I could do to help him would be, from a personal point of view, most willingly done. Without going into anything confidential I may assure him that his observations have not in my case fallen upon deaf ears and I may add that I hope they may produce satisfactory results. I would beg the noble and learned Lord not to despair.

Any one who listened to his speech might have thought that the Bill had actually disastrously foundered, whereas we are only in the very early weeks of the Session and I see no reason why he should not hope. But when the noble and learned Lord asked me to answer the question why this Bill should not get through, I really wondered for the moment whether the noble and learned Lord had forgotten all his experience over many years in the House of Commons. He knows quite well why Bills cannot get through the House of Commons. I agree with him that there are many parts of the working of our Constitution which are deplorably ineffective. Here we have a most businesslike Assembly most anxious to do work but never allowed to do work except at one particular time of the year, when there is no time to do it. That is the position of the House of Lords. In the House of Commons there are most admirable public servants who are so gifted with the faculty of speech that many of the most excellent legislative projects founder for that very reason. It is not satisfactory. I agree with most of what the noble and learned Lord said, but let us hope that on this occasion his pessimistic utterances will be found to be unjustified and that before very long the Protection of Lapwings Bill will be on the Statute Book. Certainly, for my part, I hope it will and I may say that I have some reason to hope.


My Lords, I understood Lord Buckmaster to say that one of the reasons the Government will not adopt this Bill is that they object to adopting Private Members' Bills I do not know whether that is right, but that is what I understood from the noble and learned Lord. Let me put it to my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, that that has not always been the custom of the Government. When I had the honour of being a member of the House of Commons, I always held that it was wrong for the Government to adopt Private Members' Bills which were contentious, but I regret to say that on more than one occasion the Government did adopt Private Members' Bills which I had done my utmost to oppose.


You opposed a good many.


Yes, but the Government did not adopt them all. I very well remember on one occasion the Government actually adopted at the Report Stage a Bill which I had been told previously by the Whips they would not adopt. I do not know whether that was because it was brought in by a lady member, but the Government did adopt it, although it was very contentious, and unfortunately it became law. I do not think it has ever had any effect, so it does not much matter, but they did adopt it. The Bill which is now before us is not contentious and from my experience if the Government brought it up on an "off" evening about ten minutes to eleven, it would go through without opposition.


Hear, hear.


At any rate, they might try, and if it did not go through they might put it down on another occasion. I cannot think that the excuse that the Government never adopt Private Members' Bills is one that they can advance with any very great assurance.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before five o'clock.