HL Deb 12 April 1933 vol 87 cc568-76

Order of the Day read for the House to be put into Committee on re-commitment of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. Since the Bill was first introduced I have been the subject of a very large number of communications, and never at any time have I known such a universal expression of opinion in favour of any Bill as I have received in favour of this. I have presented to the House to-day in due form a considerable number of Petitions, the signatures to which, so far as I know, have been spontaneously collected, and the general expression of opinion from every class of person has been almost universally in support of this measure. I mention that because I feel sure that, after your Lordships had given it a Second Reading without a Division, it would be satisfactory to know that your Lordships again on this occasion, as on many others, have received the general support of the world outside.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Buck-master.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]


Perhaps I might be allowed to explain that the Bill which your Lordships have on the Table is not the Bill which we are actually con- sidering at the moment. We are actually considering the Bil1 to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading, and before we can take the Amendments which are down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, it is necessary that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill should move that tie Amendments made by the Select Committee be agreed to. Then we can go through the Bill in the ordinary way. I have made inquiries and I understand that that is the correct procedure.


I beg to move that the Amendments made by the Select Committee be agreed to. I think it will save time if your Lordships accept the amended Bill as it has come from the Select Committee in place of the Bill that was submitted to it, without asking you to go in detail step by step through each Amendment which is necessary to reach that result. This Committee sat and heard evidence from every quarter and a great deal was done. The result was a unanimous Report and this Bill, which I now ask your Lordships to accept, has behind it the unanimous opinion of the whole Committee, who have considered every kind of argument either for the alteration of its form or for the alteration of its purpose. It is, I think, sufficient to add that the Committee could not have come to that conclusion unless they were satisfied that there was a grave evil which this Bill was designed to cure, and that the cruelty and brutality connected with the capture and occasional slaughter of wild birds demanded urgently to be dealt with.

Moved, That the Amendments made by the Select Committee be agreed to.—(Viscount Buckmaster.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 1:

Restrictions on the catching and sale of wild birds.

1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section any person who—

  1. (a) takes any wild bird, being a bird to which this Act applies, with the intention that it shall be sold alive; or
  2. (b) sells, offers for sale, or has in his possession for sale any live bird, being a bird to which this Act applies,
shall be liable on summary conviction to a line not exceeding two pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a line not exceeding five pounds, and the court before which any person is convicted of an offence under this section may further order the bird to be dealt with as the court may direct.

(2) The birds to which this Act applies are the birds specified in the Schedule to this Act and such other birds being birds of species resident in or visiting Great Britain in a wild state as the Secretary of State may by order specify.

All orders made by the Secretary of State under this subsection shall, so soon as may be after they are made, be laid before each House of Parliament, and if either House of Parliament, within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat after any such order has been laid before it, resolves that the order shall be annulled, the order shall thenceforth be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or to the making of a new order.

LORD BAYFORD moved, in subsection (2), to omit all words after the second "Act." The noble Lord said: I think that perhaps I am paying the highest compliment that can be paid to this Bill when I say that the object of my Amendment is to prevent any authority, however high, from being able to make any alteration in it. The effect of the Amendment is that the list of birds to which this Bill applies should be the list that actually appears in the Schedule, and that no authority, however high, should be able to make additions to that list. If your Lordships will look at the Schedule I think you will admit that it is a pretty exhaustive one. There are birds in it which, I am ashamed to say, I have never even heard of, and there is at least one bird which I cannot find in the dictionary.


Which is that bird?


The waxwing. It is not even in the dictionary. That list being so exhaustive, surely the noble Viscount who is promoting the Bill cannot really have any fear of new birds appearing in this country as to which the Home Secretary would desire to apply the provisions of the Bill. It is quite true that there are many birds well known in England which are left out of the Schedule, and I take it that those who framed the Bill left them out designedly. The object of my Amendment is to prevent these birds which have been designedly left out by the promoters of the Bill being put in by—I should not, accuse the present Home Secretary of such a thing, but by some future Home Secretary. I think there is general agree- ment among the promoters of the Bill and all who are interested in this question that these birds which have been designedly left out ought to stay out. The answer which I know the noble Viscount would give to that is: "Oh, the provision which is made in the Bill as to an Order having to lie on the Table in both Houses is such a stringent provision that it would make it impossible for any Order of that sort to get through which was in any way objectionable." The noble Viscount has had even more experience than I have had in the two Houses of Parliament, and I think he will realise just as keenly as I do how very little that provision really amounts to. I should like to ask him if he ever remembers an occasion when an Order made in that sort of way has ever been defeated in either House of Parliament.

It takes a long time as a rule before anyone even knows that such an Order has been issued. Then whoever is opposed to it has to whip up all his friends, or all who are interested in the subject, to come and support him on the occasion when he is moving what I believe is called a "prayer." When he is doing that he is moving against the Government of the day. He is moving to upset a decision of the Home Secretary, and the Government of the day is therefore of necessity bound to support the Order which their own colleague has made. As a matter of fact, that provision as to Orders lying on the Table, though it sounds very well in theory, in practice really amounts to hardly anything at all. What this Bill is actually doing is giving an entirely arbitrary power to the Home Secretary to make an alteration in an Act of Parliament. As I said at the beginning, I am a supporter of the Bill, and if the noble Viscount wishes this Bill to pass, not only through this House but in another place as well, as I hope it will, he will make its passage very much easier if he agrees to this Amendment, because, quite undesignedly no doubt, this Bill has frightened certain people, and one knows how very difficult it is, even at this time of the Session, to get a Bill through the House of Commons unless it is really unopposed. From all I hear, if this Bill goes to the House of Commons in its present form, it will not be unopposed, and it is because I wish the Bill well, and I wish to see it go through, that I ask the noble Viscount to accept this Amendment, which is really not one of substance but one of form. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 21, leave out froth ("Act") to end of clause.—(Lord Bayford.)


Before the noble Viscount replies, I wish to say a word in support of the Amendment of my noble friend. It seems to me a very reasonable Amendment. I am a warm supporter of the Bill myself, and I believe it will help in another place if this Amendment is accepted.


For the information of your Lordships, I wish to say that when the Bill first came before the Committee this provision was in it, and I think I am correct in stating that we all felt there might quite probably he occasions when it would be advisable to add some bird or other to the list, especially in view of the complicated character of the Schedule. In spite of my noble friend's statement I say we did put in the proviso that any Order should lie on the Table of both Houses for twenty-one sitting days and that it should be open to either House to object to that Order. I do not know whether both Houses act in a simultaneous manner on all occasions, but it is open to either House to object. We felt that probably that would be a sufficient safeguard. I quite agree that the matter ought to be carefully watched, but I may add that the Secretary of State has already, in other Acts dealing with birds, got power to add to or modify Orders, but, I should add, only on the motion, I think, of counties or county boroughs.


Quarter Sessions.


It is a limited power. This is not so limited, but we have limited it by the provision that any Order should lie on the Table.


May I be permitted, as the noble Marquess has not mentioned it, to give another reason why certain members of the Committee considered it desirable that it should be possible for the Schedule to be enlarged? We were of the opinion that one defect in the Bill, with which otherwise we all agreed, was that any burden or sacrifice that it imposed would necessarily fall upon one section of the community, and that section the one least able to bear it—namely, the working class. We were entirely agreed that this flaw existed, but we were also so strongly of the opinion that the Bill itself was desirable that we decided that this inequality should be tolerated. Now, supposing a considerable body of public opinion in this country were to resent this inequality, it might be desirable for the Home Secretary to include in the Schedule a bird which affects only the well-to-do—namely, the quail; and for this reason, because by enlarging the Schedule in this manner it would be possible to throw part of the burden or sacrifice upon the well-to-do members of the community, certain members of the Committee did consider it desirable that it should be possible for the Schedule to be altered if in future it proved necessary.


Perhaps it may be convenient if I tell your Lordships the attitude of the Government on this matter. I may say at the outset that I was very glad to hear from the noble and learned Viscount in charge of the Bill how popular this Bill has proved in the country, as shown by the number of letters he has received. I am very glad to hear that because, since the Second Reading, I have had so many letters of quite the, contrary character that I could only have assumed that there was some misapprehension in the country as to the result of the debate. The people who wrote to me did not seem to understand that the Government had assented to a Second Reading and had recommended the Bill should go before a Select Committee. I may say that the attitude of the Government is that they leave this question to be decided by the Committee this afternoon.

It was pointed out, I understand, by the Home Office representative at the Select Committee, that the power to add is open to the criticism that there is nothing in the Bill to indicate the grounds upon which the Secretary of State is expected to act in exercising the discretion proposed to be vested in him. That is to say, it is not clear whether he is to be guided by considerations of cruelty believed to be attendant upon the catching and caging of birds, or by more general considerations that catching and caging are in fact causing a serious diminution of the birds in question. It would seem from that that the power of adding to the Schedule might prove rather difficult to exercise in practice. It was considered that it might be rather a difficult matter for the Home Secretary to decide, but the Government naturally, like everybody else, are in favour of anything that would tend to prevent any cruelty. As regards this Amendment, the Government will leave it to the Committee. With regard to what was said about the prospects of the Bill in another place, I am told by the Home Office that it would probably be very difficult, in the present state of public business, at this time of the year to promise the Bill any safe passage or facilities in another place. Otherwise the Government are entirely neutral on the subject.


An Amendment has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, whose eminently reasonable views must always command respect, and that Amendment has been supported by the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, whose views I should naturally regard with the greatest possible attention. I was sorry to hear one or two things that were said. First of all, I think it is not quite right to say that there is no protection given by the Bill as it stands, nor is it really properly representing the position to say that if a bird is added it will be added while a particular Government is in power which would be able to control the action of the House of Commons. That may be so, but has any Government ever been able to control the action of your Lordships' House on such a question as this? After all, it must be borne in mind that as the Bill stands the Order must lie on the Table twenty-one days, and a Resolution of your Lordships' House upon it would wholly defeat it. Consequently the protection afforded by the Bill is really abundant, and I have not myself much doubt that, whoever may constitute the phantom army which stands behind the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, they have not carefully directed their minds to the provisions of the Bill itself. None the less the noble Lord said that these people were determined to vex and harry the Bill unless some Amendment, such as he has moved, were accepted. I myself, I hope, am as amenable to reason as my noble friend. The thing I am most anxious to secure is the passage of this Bill, and if the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, can assure me that his myrmidons will not only not oppose but do everything in their power to make this Bill law, then I should be prepared to consider his Amendment most favourably, for I think it would be worth while gaining any support by the sacrifice of such a provision as that. I understand, in truth, the noble Lord means that so far from having a guerilla army on our flank we shall have an ordered regiment behind us. Is that what the noble Lord really suggests?


I have no authority to go as far as that. What I understand is that the reasons I have given are the sole cause of any opposition to the Bill on the part of those people who have made representations to me.


I am certain the noble Lord will use his influence with them to help us through with the Bill. Then I will come to what the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, said. I am very glad indeed to think that we now have some rather temperate and tepid support on the part of the Home Office. I must say that their zeal for the Bill was not conspicuously displayed when the Second Reading took place. Now the noble Earl says: "Oh yes, but you must not think you are going to get any chance in the other House." My Lords, if the Home Office really believed that this Bill is needed to prevent the repetition of gross acts of cruelty—if they did believe that, as the Committee believed it, and as this House believes it—they have only to urge that on the Government and time will readily be granted.

I have never forgotten the suggestion that there was no time which was made in reference to another Bill of mine for three years, and when that Bill was brought before the House I do not believe it took half an hour. It went through like a flash of light. Yet I had been told over and over again that there was no time, and that the Bill could not have facilities in another place. If only the Home Office would request the Government to give an opportunity for consideration of this Bill, I think its passage would be secured, and I do most sincerely hope they will do so. With that hope, I will even relieve them of the responsibility, which they do not seem anxious to undertake, and accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bay-ford. Finally, there is always a temptation to teach, especially if you think you know something that somebody else does not, and I should like, if the noble Lord will permit me, to explain to him what a waxwing is. It is quite simple. A waxwing is a passerine bird of the genus Ampelis (Bombycilla) especially Ampelis garrulus, the Bohemian waxwing.


I think the noble and learned Viscount in charge of the Bill has done very wisely to accept the Amendment, provided my noble friend beside me (Lord Bayford) will bring some influence to bear upon what he calls, with what justice I know not, his myrmidons to help in the passage of the Bill. There-for I hope the Amendment will be accepted. May I add one word in support of what the noble Viscount said? If the opposition of the so-called myrmidons is withdrawn, as I trust it will be, I do hope that the Home Office will do their utmost to give facilities for this Bill to pass through the other House. I quite understand that my noble friend cannot give an absolute assurance at the moment, but I hope he will represent to the Home Office that there is a strong feeling in this House that the Bill ought to pass this Session and ought not to take very long in the House of Commons. If my noble friend will tell the Home Office that it would be a most acceptable act if they would give facilities for the passing of the Bill into law this Session it would give the utmost satisfaction among many classes of the community.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.