HL Deb 22 March 1928 vol 70 cc571-95

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. Its object is to prevent the sale in this country of plumage which is illegally imported into the country in violation of the provisions of the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act, 1921. That Act prohibited certain plumage from being imported, but it contained no prohibition whatsoever upon the sale of plumage which was illegally imported. Therefore, I suggest to your Lordships, my Bill is really a necessary corollary of the Act which received the assent of Parliament in 1921.

May I tell your Lordships very shortly what happened in 1921 and what has happened since 1921? In 1921 this Act, which I now seek to amend, was passed. It prohibited the importation into this country of the plumage of birds like ospreys, birds of paradise, and other birds, from abroad, with certain exceptions. Those exceptions were mainly eider ducks, ostriches, birds ordinarily used in this country as food, and some other birds which were recommended for exemption by an Advisory Committee which was set up under the Act of 1921. There was a penalty attaching to this prohibition, the penalty found in Section 42 of the Customs Act of 1836, which in substance was the infliction of a fine and the forfeiture of the plumage which it was sought to import. I should mention that the Act of 1921 was passed in response to a very widespread public feeling in this country and in many of our Dominions and Possessions, which strongly condemned and deplored the gradual extermination of a great number of beautiful birds, some of them, like the herons, being killed at breeding time when they were sitting and the plumage being used for the decoration of ladies' hats and similar adornments of that character.

There was also at that time a strong desire in this country to support legislation that was in progress in several of the Dominions, as for instance in Canada, in Australia, in India and it parts of Africa, with the object of prohibiting the export of plumage from those countries, in the interests of bird protection. Perhaps your Lordships would allow me in that connection to read a very short extract from an interesting book recently published by Sir James Barrett called "Save Australia, 1925.' In that book he refers to the assistance given in this country by the Act of 1921 to those who were anxious to save Australia's vanishing wild birds. Your Lordships will find on page 141 of that book the following passage:— Australia has passed laws protecting its bird life from the plumage hunters but"— and this is not unimportant— so long as skins and plumes are sold in England a certain amount of traffic has resulted. If it were not for the fact that I have received an intimation, as have probably others of your Lordships, from the usual official sources, that the Government not only do not intend to support this Bill but propose—as I think, under some misapprehension—to oppose it, I should not think it necessary to trouble your Lordships further. It seems, however, absurd and so illogical that the Legislature should say that in the interests of bird life and for the protection of wild birds you are not to import certain plumage into this country and that if you do so you will be fined and the plumage will be confiscated, and yet in the same breath to say, as we in effect say now, that this plumage, while illegally imported, may be sold by anybody who likes to buy, that nobody will object and that anybody is at liberty to sell it without any penalty whatever. In view of the announced Mentions of the Government, perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I offer some more definite and clear reasons than I should otherwise have troubled you with why this Bill should pass.

More than six years have now passed since the Act of 1921 came into operation. The reason why there was no prohibition of sale when that Act was passed was probably that there were in the country at the time considerable stocks of plumage that had been imported quite legally and it was thought that it would be unfair at that time to impose any penalty on selling. But now that nearly seven years have passed since the Act came into force, surely there has been ample time for dealers in these articles to get rid of every stock that was in hand at the time of the passing of the Act. What I should like to tell your Lordships is that since the passing of the Act there has undoubtedly been a great deal of smuggling of this forbidden plumage into the country. Some of it has been stopped by Customs House authorities and some has undoubtedly got through. That forbidden plumage is being openly sold in some of the leading shops in this country and is purchased by women who, I suppose, have theories of their own as to what they should wear. I do ask your Lordsips to say that, in order to make the original Act effective, it is really essential that we should stop the sales here.

I have said that there is a certain amount of smuggling. The truth is that there has been a very large amount of smuggling, some of it successful and some unsuccessful. The Customs House authorities have captured a great deal of this prohibited plumage and confiscated it, and in many cases the persons who have been found guilty of smuggling it have been fined. I have in my possession a complete list, drawn from figures of the Customs House, of the seizures of this forbidden plumage during, the last three years, from the beginning of 1925 to the end of last year. I do not think it necessary to trouble your Lordships with the complete list, but if any noble Lord would like to see it I shall be most happy to show it to him. What the list amounts to is that during those three years there have been many hundreds of seizures of this prohibited plumage by the Customs House authorities and in every half year there have been large seizures of plumage such as that of egrets, birds of paradise and some of those more beautiful and rare birds which we are especially anxious to protect.

Let me give your Lordships two illustrations of very large seizures that have taken place. In the autumn of 1924, in one consignment, there were no less than 136,000 grebe skins imported in violation of the Act. They were seized by the Customs House and confiscated. In the middle of 1925 I have it upon the evidence of the Customs House officer who made the statement publicly in the course of a case, that feathers to the value of £1,555 were imported concealed in the false bottom of a wooden crate which professed to contain only Japanese screens. The feathers were discovered and confiscated. I ask your Lordships to say that, when you find this very large amount of plumage brought in and captured, there must surely be a far larger amount that is brought in and not captured. It is absurd to suppose that any one would engage in a trade in which his goods are sure to be captured and confiscated. There is no doubt that this smuggling of feathers is a very remunerative trade. It goes on, but if it were not for the sale in this country it would have ceased long ago. So much for the importation into this country.

Your Lordships will naturally ask for the evidence of sales. As your Lordships are doubtless aware, there has been a considerable change in fashion in ladies' adornment within the last few years, not confined to hats but extending to other parts of the female dress. Probably that has come under the observation of some of your Lordships. The only part of that change of fashion to which I am going to refer is the change of fashion in the matter of hat decorations. Whether by reason of the Act of 1921, or from some other occult reason, there is no doubt that feather hats are not so popular as they were. There are numbers of hats, I am assured, both of the cheaper and of the more expensive kind, which are now worn, in which feathers play very little part. Feathers have been superseded by other forms of adornment, such as flowers and other things, but the fact remains that there are still a large number of feathers of this prohibited kind openly sold in some of the principal shops in London, and elsewhere, at high figures. They are bought, and have been bought up to quite recently. 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.

I have a list here of several leading London drapers selling, or offering to sell, this plumage. I am not going to give their names, for various reasons. I do not want the people who desire to buy these improper articles to know where they can get them. In any case I do not desire to advertise their names, but if the noble Duke, who is going to answer for the Government, would like to see a list of these firms, I shall be happy to give it to him privately. I have been handed to-day a very interesting list, which is published by a very important firm in London—again I do not mention the name—offering for sale birds of paradise, and ospreys, in appropriate hats, with rather inappropriate faces to match them. Birds of paradise, 7 guineas; ospreys—I suppose the price includes the hat, which is probably the least valuable part of the whole thing—7 guineas; osprey, 5½ guineas; osprey, 10 guineas; osprey, 10½ guineas, and here is one, also osprey, which to my uninstructed eye does not seem to be much better or much worse than the rest, 12½ guineas. I ask your Lordships whether it is not a real scandal that that should be allowed to go on. I think it is more than an absurdity—it is an outrage—that we should legislate, nominally to protect birds, and yet openly, and without any complaint up to now, allow these things, which ought to be kept out of the country, to be sold, and people to make a profit out of their sale.

There is a very considerable volume of opinion in the country in favour of this Bill. It was only last Session that a Bill on almost the same lines as this was presented in the House of Commons. It was backed by members of all Parties in the House of Commons. It was, I think, brought in by a Labour member, and it was backed by Conservative and Liberal members, It did not get through, because of lack of time. Then there is this fact to mention, and I am sure that Lord Haldane will be glad to hear of this gratifying feature in the character of his countrymen. It appears that the whole of the Scottish retail drapery trade support this Bill. I have here a copy of the Scottish retail drapery journal for June, 1927, and I will quote one short passage from it. It says:— We are glad to see that the whole Scottish retail trade at the federation conference unanimously agreed to condemn the illegal smuggling of plumage into the country, and to do everything possible to prevent its finding a market after it had been smuggled. There is naturally no other course for a self-respecting and law-abiding community to take. That, I think, is very worthy of its country of origin. The journal winds up in this way:— The proposed Bill to prohibit the sale of illegally imported plumage seems the right step to take, in view of the fact that any rare plumage which has been in a draper's stock since 1922, can, in the nature of things, be of little value. I have also had resolutions sent to me from branches of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals all over the country, strongly supporting this Bill, which I may say is supported officially by the Society itself. There have been other resolutions also in favour of it.

If I may ask your Lordships for one moment to look at the provisions of the Bill, which are extremely simple, you will find it is proposed that Section I of the Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act of 1921 is to be amended by adding at the end of subsection (1) the words "or sell or offer for sale the plumage of any bird the importation of which is prohibited by this Act." In other words, if you have the importation of any plumage prohibited by the Act of 1921, its sale shall also be prohibited. Then comes paragraph (b) in Clause 1 (1), which imposes a penalty in these words:— Any person who sells or offers for sale the plumage of any bird the importation of which is prohibited by this Act shall, upon summary conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty-five pounds and, in addition, the Court shall order the plumage … to be forfeited. Then comes an exceedingly important proviso, because it was recognised by those interested in framing the Bill that there might be cases where the plumage was innocent, either because it had been in stock before the passing of the Act of 1921 (a very unlikely occurrence) or because the person who was selling might have had reason to suppose that it was plumage which had not been illegally imported.

Therefore this important proviso was put in the clause:— Provided that it shall be a good defence to proceedings for an offence under this section to prove either— (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. So that, under those two provisos every reasonable opportunity, I venture to think, is given to a man who has made an innocent purchase, to defend himself against proceedings under this measure.

Before I sit down, may I meet two possible objections which may be urged against the Bill? In the first place, it may be said that we make it an offence to sell plumage and yet give a man an opportunity of showing that it was not illegally imported. There is the exact analogy for that provision in two Acts which were passed, not so very long ago—namely, the Wild Birds' Protection Acts of 1880 and 1881. The effect of these Acts was that the killing of certain wild birds between March 1 and August 1 was prohibited, and the Acts went on to prohibit the selling of any such wild birds after March 15, and imposed a penalty upon such selling. So far those Acts are very analogous to the present Bill, but there was also a proviso similar to mine saying that it should be a good defence in any proceedings for selling under the Act to show either that the killing of the bird was lawful at the time and in the place where it was killed, or that the bird was killed in some place to which the Acts did not apply. So that I venture to think there is a close precedent in those Acts for the Bill which I am now asking your Lordships to read a second time. There were also a number of other precedents which I need not trouble your Lordships with, several of them very close precedents for the Bill which I now present.

There is only one other point which I wish to make. It has been suggested that this Bill is unnecessary, because it is said that the Customs Act, 1876, already imposes a, penalty upon selling articles which are illegally imported. I have looked into that with very great care, and there is nothing in it; I am quite satisfied that it is not the case. The Customs Act was an Act to prevent the importation of dutiable articles, and, when such importation was detected, to impose very severe penalties in the shape of treble the value of the goods and confiscation. There are no provisions in that Act at all for tracing the goods throughout the country after they have come in, and there is no provision that I can find—and if the Government can find it I shall be immensely surprised—for imposing any penalty whatever on any one who sells dutiable articles which escape the Custom Houses.

As a matter of fact, the Customs authorities have no power, no organisation, and no machinery for going through the country, and saying to a grocer: "Here is some tea which has not paid duty," or to a wine merchant: "Here is some whisky which has not paid duty." There is no machinery of that sort, and the best proof that there is no such possibility of the Custom House preventing a sale is that those sales have been going on, they are going on, and there is not a single case reported in which a Custom House has attempted to prevent a sale. Therefore let me not be told that the Customs Act, 1876, supplies the proper remedy for what I call a real scandal. I ask your Lordships if you will kindly give a Second Reading to this Bill, and if the Government, having heard what can be said for it, are under any misapprehension, and require any further explanation, I am sure it will be given by other speakers. I trust that the Government will not oppose this Bill, which has the support of all Parties in another place, and which seems only reasonable and right if we desire to make the legislation already passel effective for its purpose.

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


My Lords, I had the honour of having the conduct in your Lordships' House of the Bill to prohibit the importation of birds' plumage. I believe that that Bill was a successor to one that was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lambourne, upon whose presence and support any one can confidently rely who is seeking to protect animals or birds from the unthinking cruelty of man. The Bill passed, as the noble Lord, Lord Danes-fort, said, seven years ago, and the time has surely come when we should take steps to secure that the operation of that Act is made effectual. Lord Danesfort says that he anticipates that the Government are going to oppose this Bill. To my mind that is almost incomprehensible if by that he means that the Government are going to stand before the country as putting their Whips on in this House to compel rejection of a Bill the object of which is to give further protection to the birds that we all know have been only too cruelly and inhumanly treated in the past. If their opposition means that in some Government Department there has been prepared a memorandum, taken down from the lips of some expert, or some communication from him to which this House will shortly listen, and after that expression of expert opinion we are left to our own judgment there can be little to be said, but I sincerely trust that if the Government is going to use its whole authority to defeat this Bill the noble Lord will persist in going to a Division, and that you, my Lords, will support him in the Lobby.

This is really the concluding stage of a very old and singularly shameful tale. It is true man was in the earlier days of his existence given dominion over bird and beast, but the dominion was a moral trust. It was not a dominion in which he was at liberty to exploit these creatures as he pleased for his pleasure, it was a solemn obligation. The duty thrown upon him has been grievously betrayed, and in my opinion it is our duty not only to strengthen and secure that the obligation shall be recognised, but to do everything we can to see that this world is handed on not less beautiful and not less full of all the wonders of nature than it was when we came into our inheritance. What is it that happens with regard to these birds? The facts are practically not in dispute. When, owing to that mysterious power which moves the whole living world, these birds put on the greatest beauty of their adornment, that is the moment selected by the trade to tear from these creatures their plumes for the purpose of decorating women's hats. No one imagines that because a Bill was passed preventing their importation you thereby stopped the method of collecting the plumes that are now illegally imported. They are collected in just the same way, because the very beauty and attraction of these plumes lies in the fact that they are grown on the birds at that particular moment of the year, and if only one small fragment of the tales that were told about this method of collection were true everybody should do everything in his power to stamp out what is a detestable trade. It was said—and I never heard it contradicted—that the plumes were torn from the living birds, and the birds were left to struggle along as best they could while their young died of hunger in the nest. That anyone should do anything that could by any conceivable and remote contingency support such an arrangement as that is something I cannot think. And, as I remember with great pleasure that the Bill which prevented the importation went through your Lordships' House without any opposition, either spoken or in the Lobby. I cannot but think that this Bill will receive the same support.

What is the case against it? As I understand it, the case against it is this. It is true that six years have gone by since the Act came into force, and that because the change in fashion has lessened the demand for these most valuable plumes traders have still some plumes that they bought before 1921 and which they are willing to sell. I have the greatest doubt about it, and I do not know on what evidence the Government can base their view that that is true. The fact is that the best and most reputable traders, when the Bill passed, put the whole thing away and would have nothing to do with it, and they would be only too glad if they could get the support of this House in preventing the unlawful competition of people who have not the same scruples as they have themselves. It certainly is not without the strongest significance that throughout the whole of Scotland—where, after all, there are women and women who wear hats—they are unanimous in desiring that this thing should be stopped. And why? For the reason I have given—that the honest trader wants the dishonest trader interfered with. I believe that this Bill has no other purpose than that.

If in fact it does happen that in the course of preventing this sale you may stumble on some plumage that has been kept in boxes for seven years—and I do not think it is very likely—this Bill gives ample opportunity for the man whose goods are in question to prove that he got them before 1921 and the whole thing is at an end and there will be no prosecution. That is not a matter which it is difficult to prove. Your Lordships know that the books and invoices of a trader are the plainest things in the world and he has merely to turn up the invoice for the goods and identify them, as he readily can, and the whole thing is at an end. But if he cannot, and if he is selling these goods the importation of which is prohibited, then I say he is engaging in a risky trade which ought to be stopped at the earliest moment. The truth is that these things can be packed in a very small space. The profits on the bigger ones are, no doubt, high and there is encouragement for smuggling and an opportunity for smuggling, and there is no means by which you can check that opportunity so readily as by the passage of this Bill.

I rather gathered from what the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, said, that he was looking forward to some change of fashion in which the demand for these feathers would come back again. He appears to follow the changes in women's fashions. Personally, I would as soon try to follow the changes in a kaleidoscope. It is bad for your mental vision to attempt to do anything of the kind. The thing that is most lamentable is that women, who by nature are tender and sympathetic and who would scream with horror if they saw done the things that are done in the provision of articles for their adornment, will, none the less, without any pity and without any reflection buy these things for their decoration when they are offered for sale. There is nothing so hard and so cruel as the vanity and the cruelty of fashion, and that is one of the things that we desire to stop. Until we have heard what the Government have to say it is useless to pursue this matter. I deliberately avoided waiting until the Government had spoken because I was anxious, if it were within my power, to say something that would give them pause and lead them to hesitate a little before attempting to cover with the ægis of their authority this trade, which no man who has any feelings for, as I say, the beauty and wonder of this world can regard with anything but disgust and shame.


My Lords, before moving the rejection of this Bill on behalf of His Majesty's Government, there are one or two points to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships. As the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill informed your Lordships, under the existing Act the importation of all plumage is prohibited except the plumage of certain special birds—firstly, of a kind used for food in this country and, secondly, those whose plumage is licensed by the Board of Trade, for scientific purposes, for museums, and for other special purposes such as flies for angling, etc. The great objection taken by His Majesty's Government to this Bill is that a new offence is created under it, and it puts the onus on the accused and forces him to prove his innocence. That, I believe your Lordships will agree, is quite contrary to English law. From inquiries from the heads of the Customs and the Board of Trade, I am sure that at the present moment there is no evidence, or hardly any, of smuggling in this particular trade. The reason for that is plain, as your Lordships have already mentioned. It is that the fashions have changed and there is really no demand at the present moment for plumage of that kind. The plumage trade is at present almost dead. That is the opinion of the Board of Trade and of the Customs authorities, who have gone very closely into the matter and reported upon it.

A suggestion has been made that plumage will not keep for more than seven years and that also has been proved to be incorrect. Some plumage has been kept in this country in quite good condition for no less than fifty years, and I shall give your Lordships further evidence of that at a later stage. The small amount of plumage that does come in from time to time comes, the Customs authorities inform us, chiefly from sportsmen and others who have had no knowledge of the new Act and have brought in a few birds which have been stuffed for their private museums and so on. From that point of view alone it seems to me that there is no necessity for this Bill. The view of His Majesty's Government is that on the evidence they have had before them no further legislation is justified. And I put it before your Lordships, and surely you will agree, that both Houses of Parliament would want considerable justification before they started to make new criminal offences. If the Bill were to pass as it stands traders could be taken to the police court and called upon to prove their innocence. Not only that, but at this moment under the present legislation the Customs authorities have power to seize wrongly-imported goods wherever they may be and, therefore, if smuggled goods—


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Duke, but under what section of the Customs Act does that power arise?


I only have it on the authority of the Board of Trade that they have that power. Therefore, if smuggled goods are being sold in a shop or held by a dealer, the Customs can go in and seize them and confiscate them even if the holder himself is innocent. It is also a fact that there are still considerable stocks of saleable pre-Act plumage in this country. As I have already stated, it has been found that some plumage has lasted, under certain conditions, for no less than fifty years in perfectly good condition. Dr. Percy Lowe, of the Natural History Museum, and Mr. Stuart-Baker state that, provided reasonable care is taken, plumage will last practically indefinitely if properly cured and protected against dust, damp, moths and light. This was confirmed by Mr. Hunter, of Messrs. Farlowe and Co., leading manufacturers of fishing tackle. Mr. Hunter is in constant touch with the relevant department of the Board of Trade in connection with the licensing of plumage used in the manufacture of fishing tackle, and he has stated that his firm has had some argus pheasant plumage fifty years old which is still in perfect condition. It is quite clear from these statements that there is no foundation whatsoever for the suggestion that certainly has been made by the noble Lord—I am not sure whether he actually made it in his speech to-day, but he has made it on several occasions previously—that plumage required for millinery purposes would deteriorate in the space of seven years.


I confess I do not remember ever making such a statement.


It was made in the course of the discussion with the President of the Board of Trade. It is quite possible, therefore, that large stocks of pre-Act plumage might be, and probably are, still in the hands of retailers and merchants, and as such can be legally sold to-day. We know that to be the case. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill thinks, as I read the Bill, and as the Bill must be read, that any one who sells plumage ought to prove that it is legal and not illegal plumage. As I have tried to make clear, this is contrary to the general principles of criminal law. Why should the unfortunate trader be presumed to be guilty unless he proves himself innocent? I maintain that Parliament could not, and never will, agree to this, unless it be proved to its satisfaction that traders generally were committing an offence. I have tried to show to-day that the Customs' investigations prove that that offence is not being committed, and I have now to move the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(The Duke of Sutherland.)


My Lords, I think the reply of the Government which has just fallen from the lips of the noble Duke has been most unsatisfactory and most unconvincing. He began by saying that this Bill created a new offence, and suggested that that was something which the Government would be extremely loth to do. When I heard that I confess that I gasped with astonishment, for time and time again, within the last three or four years, the Government have introduced measures which simply reek with new offences from beginning to end.


Not criminal offences.


Yes, new criminal offences have been created. Their chief measure last year was full of new criminal offences. I cannot speak as a lawyer, and I do not claim to do so, but I should be surprised to hear that the position put forward by the noble Duke really represents the true state of affairs as regards the law. Then the noble Duke said that there was no evidence of smuggling, no evidence or any trade apparently going on in the shops. I think that he is mistaken in saying that no trade is going on.


That is the report of the Customs authorities.


The Customs authorities do not know everything, and Government Departments are often in error. Trade is going on and, that being so, is it the contention that all the trade consists of old stock, seven years old? As a matter of fact it is virtually certain that there can be very little stock left in this country—that is, old stock of seven years ago—and, with all respect to the noble Duke, I would say that in so far as there is such stock it must have in a great many cases considerably deteriorated by this time. It is idle to tell us that plumage will last if this is done and that is done and the other is done, and if numerous precautions are taken. Is it seriously suggested that in the shops of London, where this plumage used to be stored, precautions are taken in anything like the necessary degree? I am informed that in the ordinary way plumage kept in shops must deteriorate very considerably before seven years are over. It is therefore virtually certain that smuggling is going on, and certainly up to two or three years ago there was distinct evidence of that, according to my information.

The noble Duke has not suggested that this Bill should be rejected because its passing would mean an interference with trade. He cannot suggest that, because he says there is no trade. If that is so, and if this Bill is not going to interfere with trade, what might conceivably have been some kind of objection requiring consideration cannot, it seems to me, now be advanced, and on those grounds alone there is a strong case for passing the Bill. We maintain, as a matter of fact, that the trade is going on. Moreover, this Bill, if passed, will help British trade, because it will encourage certain minor industries which are now being competed with by this plumage trade. It will encourage ostrich farming, and the poultry feather trade. That is an important trade, and a legitimate trade, and it employs many ex-Service men. There are various trades manufacturing substitutes and accessories used for millinery. These various trades would be encouraged. In the United States, where a Bill was passed somewhat similar, as I understand it, to our 1921 Act, it was found necessary, after a lapse of time, to pass an amending Act to stop up a leak. I think the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, proved clearly that the leak here should also be stopped up, and following the course of events in the United States, the same thing should be done in this country.

I do not attach enormous importance to this, but there is in a minor way the Imperial side of the matter. Australia has very strong views about this. The noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, referred to that in the course of his speech. Again, Tasmania, India, and parts of Africa have all prohibited exports, and this Bill would enable their efforts to meet with further success. I think that the decision announced by the Government will create very great disappointment, and that on close investigation their objections will prove to be ill-based. In the interests of these wild birds, so eloquently pleaded by the noble and learned lord, Lord Buckmaster, and to help British trade, and make legislation passed by Parliament do what Parliament intended it should do, this Bill ought to be passed. If the noble Lord goes to a Division, I shall support him.


My Lords, I should like to suggest a course that those traders ought to take who are afraid of being prosecuted. It is quite easy for them to sell their stocks on the Continent and cut their losses. After all, that is only an ordinary trade risk. If there is no market for the goods here, the sooner they cut their losses the better for them.


My Lords, I have so much respect for the noble Duke that I cannot but think he must have felt rather uncomfortable in the defence he was able to put before us to-day. I must say that a more flimsy and weak reply to an indictment which is of a serious sort and interests thousands of people in this country I have never listened to. To be told that feathers imported more than seven years ago and not yet sold are so numerous in the shops that it would be a grave wrong to the owners to prohibit them from selling them does seem to me to require a very great deal of proof before we can accept it as a fact.

I am interested to learn that my countrymen north of the Tweed do not find any such difficulty. They would not be those who rashly part with articles in their possession without obtaining value for them if it was obtainable, but they tell us that nothing of the kind is wanted and that the difficulty does not exist. I understood the noble Duke to tell us that practically the thing is not going on. I am not, of course, in the least able to speak from personal knowledge of the subject, but the noble Lord who introduced this Bill has quoted from tables of statistics furnished by officers of the Customs as to the packets and parcels which actually were confiscated. It is indisputably true to say that if the number of parcels confiscated in the case of some particular birds—I think he instanced the grebe as one of the most numerous—amounts to thousands, the Customs have not succeeded in laying their hands on anything like all the articles which it was attempted to import in this way, when, from their size or character, smuggling is of the simplest sort.

It seems to me almost a mockery to pass an Act of this kind prohibiting the importation of plumage and then not to go forward and say that if plumage is imported it shall not be sold. There has been evidence put forward—I do not think it has been put before us in this House, but I have seen it in print—that Customs officers have discovered the importation of plumage within the lining of fur coats and things of that kind, of ladies actually wearing them. If it is worth while to do that—and I should not be surprised that it should be found worth while if the sale is allowed to go on—it shows how impossible it is to expect the Customs officers to be able to detect all the cases in which this goes on. I do not believe it has come to an end, or that it is likely to come to an end unless we follow up in a perfectly natural way the prohibition of importation by an Act providing that those who sell are guilty of an offence.

I do not like to plunge into legal matters, but I am surprised to be told that there is something contrary to the principles of English justice in asking a man who is selling an article which ought not to be imported whether he imported it before the date of prohibition. All he is asked to say is: "I imported it before 1921." I doubt his being able to do that, because I do not believe much in these articles having been kept such a time; but if he can do it let him do it and he is free. Is there anything contrary to the principles of justice in calling upon a man to do that? The group of arguments seems to be: first, that the trade is not going on; secondly, that a grave wrong would be done to people who have stocks of value if they cannot deal with them and that those stocks ought not to be confiscated; and thirdly, that it would be contrary to the principles of justice to ask a person to make such a declaration as I have indicated. I do think such a defence is one which must be regarded as almost pitiful in a matter of this kind.


My Lords, amongst my many duties I am not sure that I do not fear most the obligation put upon me to speak upon a subject which I do not understand and to try to guide your Lordships to a right conclusion. Of all subjects in the world about which I understand little, the one about which I understand least is that of the fashions which are dictated in woman's clothing. I can say nothing about that subject whatever. I am, however, extremely glad to believe it to be true that the fashion of women wearing plumage in their hats or in any other way is becoming very unusual. I have no doubt whatever that that change of fashion has been largely due to the action of Parliament and to the action of keen reformers like my noble friend and others, the result of whose efforts has been to discourage the use and sale of these methods of adornment.

Of course, there is no difference of opinion whatever as to the desire to put an end altogether to this trade. There is no question about that. Parliament decided it many years ago, and it is only a question of carrying out the wishes of Parliament and the decision of Parliament in the manner which may be most effective and also most conducive to the equities of the case. I am not going to discuss this matter in any heated language or to make any appeal to sentiment. The noble and learned Lord opposite brings a wealth of sentimental advocacy to almost every subject which he undertakes. I really do not think that is the atmosphere in which this sort of measure ought to be discussed, if he will allow me to say so. We shall not do justice by appealing to the compassion which all your Lordships feel towards the animal creation and to your love for the beauties of nature. We shall not, by appeals of that kind, arrive at a just conclusion as to what is fair in the circumstances of the case.

Let us look at it perfectly dispassionately. What is the policy of Parliament as laid down in this Act of Parliament? It is to stop the whole of the trade in this plumage, but to respect the interests which have grown up during the period when the trade was legal so as not to inflict any injustice on individuals. That was the policy embodied in the Act of Parliament. I do not think that will be denied by anybody. It would have the support of every one of your Lordships and, I am quite sure, of the most rev. Primate most of all. That was the policy. The form which the Act of Parliament took was to forbid the importation but not to forbid the sale, because it was thought, and rightly thought, that a number of persons would have imported supplies during the legal period, when it was not illegitimate, and that their action, which was quite innocent, should not be counted against them. That was the policy. The question is whether we ought to modify the law seven years after.

The first question which arises, and which my noble friend, if I may say so, discussed with great fairness, was whether in point of fact the measures which have been taken in pursuance of the Act of Parliament to prevent the importation of these feathers have been successful. He quoted a number of statistics to show that they have been unsuccessful. I have not had time, I can assure your Lordships, to study these statistics and I had some difficulty in following them, no doubt owing to my own stupidity, as my noble friend gave them to the House. But I want to assure your Lordships that the Government are quite aware that that is the point. The question is: Is there smuggling going on, or is there not? That is not a matter for any sentiment at all. It is a bare, stern question of fact. The Government did exactly as any one of your Lordships would have done. They appealed to the Customs officers to find out. They said to the Customs officers, who are experts in this matter: "Have you any evidence to show there is smuggling?" I am not suggesting that Customs officers are not occasionally deceived. Of course that happens continually, but at any rate if you want to find out whether there is smuggling the chief source to which you would go would be to the Customs officers to see if they could give any evidence of it.

The Government did so, and I hold in my hand a report. My noble friend the noble Duke quoted, I think, from this report, but as it is not very long I propose to read a good deal of it to the House. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. I do not very often trouble you with extracts, but I think that this is really directly to the point. The Customs report that:— There is no reason to suppose that plumage is being smuggled to any extent. It is understood "— this is direct from the Customs House— that practically all the seizures have related to imports of prohibited plumage by private individuals "— It may be very improper of private individuals to import plumage, but it does not correspond to a trade or anything such as has been very properly, if I may say so, the subject of animadversion in the speeches made this afternoon— who were either themselves ignorant of the prohibition or who had plumage sent to then by persons abroad similarly ignorant. In these cases there has been no attempt at smuggling and the plumage has been seized merely because it is Prohibited and not covered by a licence issued by the Board of Trade. That is to say, this plumage has been imported by private individuals, there has been no attempt at smuggling, but when the Customs House officials found it they seized it because it was prohibited. No doubt this plumage finds its place among the statistics of the noble Lord, though it was imported by ignorant persons.


Does that apply to the plumage imported in the false-bottomed box?


I have no evidence of the false-bottomed box.


That was the statement of a Customs House officer in 1925.


I am going to say a word or two, if I may, about my noble friend's evidence. I am not despising it for a moment. I want to assure the noble Lord of that. I am merely reading this report, which is in the hands of the Government. It goes on to say:— The cases in winch seizures have related to what may be termed trade imports are very few and far between. That is to say, the person responsible for this report does not say that there are none but that there are very few. The evidence does not go further than that. Then the report goes on to deal with the case of the inspection of plumage which is exposed for sale. My noble friend dealt with that point at some length and I quite agree with him that this class of evidence is not very conclusive. I do not know how far Customs House officers have facilities for knowing what is being exhibited for sale. The real emphasis in this report is on the question of smuggling, which it is the very business of the Customs House officers to know all about. I can only say that this is a very important statement on behalf of a Government Department. It can be, of course, upset on evidence shown, but it cannot be got over simply by counter-statement, and even the evidence of my noble friend, for which I have the greatest respect and I have not the least doubt that he is accurate in what he says, would not prove that smuggling was very prevalent. It would prove, no doubt, that there were cases but that, of course, is admitted. It would not prove that it was very prevalent.

I am afraid, therefore, that I must take it as the opinion of the Government, until it is shown that their officials are wrong, that the experts whose business it is to guard the frontiers of this country from the importation of what is prohibited are satisfied—this is a strong statement—that there is no smuggling on a considerable scale and nothing to justify the charge that there is a regular trade in these prohibited articles. I am at once faced, as was my noble friend the noble Duke, with the question of where the feathers that are exposed for sale come from. That is an obvious and perfectly fair question. On that point my noble friend the noble Duke was instructed to say that they were quite possibly the plumage that had been imported during the innocent period before it was prohibited. Upon that point I quite admit that I am personally no judge. It seemed to the most rev. Primate an absurd suggestion. I really do not know that it is absurd. Perhaps the most rev. Primate did not use quite so strong a phrase, but that is what, in effect, he thought. I do not think that it is fair to condemn that kind of evidence in that kind of way. No doubt this is the evidence of officials, but you must occasionally believe even officials and it is certainly possible that they are right, because it has been proved on the highest authority by ornithologists and others that these feathers are very easily kept for a much longer period than seven years in perfectly good condition.

I am not disposed, therefore, to sweep away this evidence and to say that there cannot be any truth in the plea that these articles that are exhibited for sale have been imported in the period before the prohibition became law. Let us assume for a moment that this is the fact and that a large quantity is still for sale, or at any rate a certain amount, which was imported before the law prohibited its importation. If that be true, we have to think of the interests of justice. Have we a right then to say to the tradesman who sells the feathers now: "If you do this after this Bill passes into law you will be guilty of a criminal offence," though he has ex hypothesi secured these feathers in a period when it was not a criminal offence?


He can clear himself.


I am quite aware of that. He has got to prove that he is innocent. How many noble and learned Lords do I see before me? Four at least. I shall be very much surprised if they get up and say that it is the usual practice in English law to call upon a man to prove that he is innocent.


That is not the point. The point is that in the circumstances the possession of these feathers is primâ facie evidence that there has been an offence and the burden is then cast upon the man of showing that there has not.


The noble and learned Lord lays it down that it is primâ facie evidence.


Certainly it is.


Personally I should say that, the law having been up to that moment that you might not import these feathers but that you might sell them since they may have been imported in the previous period, then, if you are going to alter the law, the burden of proof is on you and not on the innocent trader. I should have said that the burden of proof was properly and equitably on the other side. He is only going on as he has always gone on, and yet noble and learned Lords sitting in the highest Court of Appeal say: "You must prove your innocence for you are a suspected person. Come into court and prove your innocence, and, unless you show that these feathers were bought from somebody who bought them from somebody else who bought them from somebody else who originally brought them over from France before the forbidden period, you will go to prison."


May I ask my noble friend to read the Bill, where he will see that such a man is provided with a good defence.


I know it is a defence, if he can show it, but he has got to prove it. That is the point. The burden of proof is upon him. That seems to me to be contrary to the accepted principle of our law, and if it be true that there are still in existence in England considerable numbers of these feathers, which were imported in the period before importation was prohibited, then it seems to me very unfair that you should call upon a man to prove his innocence. That is the case against the Bill. We do not use such passionate language, but we are quite as much against this trade as the noble and learned Lord apposite. We do not believe that conviction depends upon passionate language at all, but it appears to us that the matter should be approached calmly and judicially, and we do not think that it would be within our duty to give a final assent to a Bill which, according to the advice given to us and according to the reports which are made to us, has no sufficient evidence to support it.

Your Lordships will wonder how I am going to conclude these rather perfunctory observations. I do not want to give your Lordships the impression, for a moment, that the Government favour this trade. I am dreadfully afraid that if we are going to have this great conjunction of authorities against us it will be said that here is this brutal Government, which in defence of some obscure vested interest is prepared to run the risk of continuing a trade which all good men reprobate. That is not at all the position which we occupy. I do not think that we can consent, so far as we can control the matter, to pass finally into law a Bill sustained upon such very slender evidence as has been offered, through no fault of his own, by my noble friend. If we accept the Second Reading this afternoon it must be upon the express understanding that we cannot allow the Bill to go forward until this extraordinary conflict of evidence has been resolved.

We have my noble friend saying that he has statistics, which he quoted, as he said, from Government sources, and we have my noble friend the noble Duke with a report from the Customs House, which I have quoted at length. Until the contrary is proved, we adhere to the Customs House report. We say that there is no evidence of smuggling, and until we are satisfied that there is real evidence of smuggling, so that it is shown to be really true that the law which was passed seven years ago in Parliament is not carried into effect, we cannot be responsible for advising your Lordships to pass this Bill into law. So far as the Second Reading is concerned, if your Lordships wish we shall not resist it, but between now and the next stage, which will be some weeks off, because we are approaching the Recess, I have no doubt that my noble friend the noble Duke and the Board of Trade, which he represents, will see whether the evidence which has been brought forward by Lord Danesfort really can be sustained, against the considered judgment of the Customs House. If it cannot be sustained, then I hope your Lordships will not consider I have been guilty of any inconsistency if I am not able to advise you to accept any further stages of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, after the very fair and candid statement of the noble Marquess who leads the House, and who I gather is no further opposed to the Second Reading, I will not trouble your Lordships with an analysis of the evidence, but I can assure the noble Marquess that my statistics, which show that a large amount of feathers has been improperly imported during the last two years, are taken from the Customs House official figures.

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