HL Deb 15 April 1954 vol 186 cc1321-7

11.5 a.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time, and in doing so I think I can be extremely brief. Your Lordships might be forgiven for certain mild bewilderment at having the Second Reading, within six months, of a second Bill for the Protection of Birds, designed to achieve the same object and identical in a great deal of its content. The history of the matter, briefly, is this. The House will remember that on November 17 last the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, introduced a Bill for the Protection of Birds. That Bill received a warm welcome from all parts of the House. It received a warm welcome from the Government spokesman, but the Government were specific in saying that they could not commit themselves to provide any Parliamentary time for its passage in another place. The noble Viscount, in his speech, expressed the hope that a Bill on what he called "not dissimilar lines" would be introduced in another place. My Lords, such a Bill was introduced by my noble relative, and that is the one I place before you to-day.

The genesis of this Protection Bill is, I think, known to most of your Lordships. All of us are agreed that for years past the law relating to bird protection has been greatly in need of overhaul. Two Advisory Committees, widely representative of all interests, sat for the space of five years to look into this matter. The English Committee was presided over with great distinction by my noble friend Lord Ilchester. To his patience and to his great knowledge of the subject that Committee, and we ourselves, owe a very great debt of gratitude.

The Bill that we have to-day is based on the valuable research and unanimous recommendations of those two Committees. It seeks to do two things: first, it brings a new approach to the subject, the comprehensive protection of all birds, subject to scheduled exceptions; and secondly, it consolidates a great mass of legislation, repealing twenty-six Acts of Parliament, one of which goes back to the days of George III, and a further 250 Regulations and Orders, many of which were contradictory. These Rules and Orders formed a complex which, as regards the law of the land, could not be effectively enforced; and, because they were not intelligible, they were rarely enforced. One of the Acts which this Bill repeals was sponsored by my own father, a matter of some twenty years ago.

This Bill comes to us from another place, where it has been the subject of long and careful discussion. One often hears the expression "the law of nature" or "the balance of nature". I believe that there is only one law which can preserve the balance of nature—namely, that what is destroyed must be given full opportunity to replace itself. I believe that the principle of this Bill gives a better opportunity to the preservation of that natural balance than anything we have previously had on the Statute Book. On the Second Reading of the Bill we are concerned with principle only. The principle of this Bill and that of Lord Templewood's Bill are identical, with the exception of one rather important instance, arid that is the matter of the protection of eggs. Lord Templewood's Bill directly protected the eggs of birds which were listed in the First Schedule; it continued in force the existing local orders for the protection of the eggs of a certain further list of birds, and it gave the Secretary of State power to further extend these orders. This Bill protects the eggs of all birds, subject to a list of scheduled exceptions. In this House I think there are probably few of us who do not take a keen interest in birds, and it is inevitable that there should be some points of difference of detail; but I submit that those points of difference are relative to the Committee stage rather than Second Reading. So, my Lords, 1 put this Bill before you and ask you now to accord it a Second Reading.

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

11.12 a.m.


My Lords, if it is convenient to the House, I rise only for a moment to indicate the attitude of the Government towards this Bill. The House will remember that, as Lord Tweedsmuir has said, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, supported a very similar Bill which was introduced by Lord Temple-wood into this House earlier this Session. This Bill comes to this House from another place. In the other place, the Government have given full support to the present Bill at all stages. Amendments have, of course, been made in both Bills, and some of these will probably be the subject of further discussion in this House. But, on behalf of the Government, I can say that, in general, this Bill will continue to receive our unqualified support.

11.14 a.m.


My Lords, I should like, in the first place, to congratulate the noble Lady who was responsible for moving the Second Reading of this Bill in another place and who with such charm and skill steered it through all the difficult stages which it had to pass. Now the Bill is fortunate in that the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, is taking on the corresponding duty in this House. I think this is a good Bill, and I am glad to hear that the Government are going to support it. Nevertheless, I hope that that does not mean that the noble Lord will not listen carefully to discussion at the Committee stage, because this House is very well qualified to express an opinion on the matters concerned, having among its Members, as it does, a great many people—I do not claim to be one of them—with life-long knowledge of this subject.

At the Committee stage, I shall certainly come back to my point about the lapwing, because I believe that in this matter we are being governed by sentiment and not by brain. I told Lord Buck master exactly the same thing when he introduced a Bill, and the net result was exactly what I had forecast. I had been told that while in this country the number of plovers went down, in Holland that was not so. I found that the system in Holland is a very simple one. They allow people to take the eggs of the lapwing up to April 21, but thereafter clamp down on the practice with great severity. The net result is that the lapwings are later there, but when they have their broods the corn is more forward and so they have a much better chance of survival. It is not a matter of a priorireasoning. Now we have the experience of the two countries. On the last occasion when this matter was discussed in the House, I was supported by Lord Ilchester and by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I shall certainly raise it again. I ask your Lordships not to be frightened of the taunt that what you are thinking of is your stomachs rather than anything else. That just is not true. We must not be frightened of that sort of argument, but we must face this matter fairly and squarely. At the Committee stage, I hope to move Amendments to the effect I have indicated.

I am a little alarmed to note, if I understand the Bill aright, that bird's-nesting becomes a criminal offence under it. This means that a small boy from school who goes out, as he undoubtedly will do, finds a thrush's nest and takes an egg from it can be hauled up before magistrates and, I suppose, if it is thought necessary, sent to an approved school. I would much rather that little boys did not take thushes' eggs. I wish thrushes built their nests higher than they do, instead of building them in such convenient places for small boys to raid them. Lord Hurcomb would tell us, no doubt, that the thrush knows best; but I would tell the thrush, if I could, to build its nest about thirty feet up, instead of about three feet up as it now does. I think we shall have to consider the point which I have just mentioned. It is a serious matter. I am entirely against raiding; I wish that thrushes' nests were left alone. But I know they will not be. All the same, I do not much like the idea of small boys who take thrushes' eggs being guilty of a criminal offence. What will be done in actual fact, of course, is that no one will take any notice. It would be rather ridiculous to prosecute in such cases. Thus the other result will follow: the law will be brought into disrepute. It is a difficult problem and I ask the noble Lord to bear it in mind. I shall not raise this point myself at the Committee stage, but I think someone else probably will. On the whole, subject to points of minor detail, such as I have indicated, which are, as the noble Lord has reminded us. Committee points, I express my hearty concurrence in this Bill and wish it an easy passage; and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir on being given the opportunity of introducing it to this House.

11.17 a.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to waste your Lordships' time by going into points of detail which, as the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, has said, are really Committee matters. I should like to add my congratulations to those which have Already been tendered to the noble Lady for steering this Bill through another place, and I wish the noble Lord every success in getting it through your Lordships' House. As the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has said, there are some points which will have to be raised in Committee. I think his point about the small boy who goes bird's-nesting may well be one which will have to be considered. I think also that something may have to be done about the Brent Goose. I hope, too, that nothing will be done to alter the provision whereby wildfowling is permitted on the foreshore up to February 21, which is now the case. I think all the interests concerned are agreed that it is quite harmless, and I hope that it will not be raised again. I hope that we shall not be too much discouraged from proposing some Amendments to this Bill on the Committee stage. Subject to this, I should like to give the Bill my full support.

11.18 a.m.


My Lords, I rise for just a few moments to welcome the Bill, the Second Reading of which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir. It is an interesting fact that husband and wife have not jointly seen a Bill through Parliament since Lord and Lady Astor sponsored one in 1923 which dealt with quite a different subject—namely, the sale of drinks to young people. I desire to join in the congratulations which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, extended to the noble Lady, Lady Tweedsmuir, for the great ability, tact, charm and understanding with which she piloted this Bill through another place. I have a personal interest beyond that in that in the earlier 'twenties I was responsible for the Plumage Bill. It so happened that during the period I piloted that Bill through another place I there represented part of the City of Aberdeen—Tory, which is now represented by the noble Lady. Therefore, it comes to pass that the electors of Tarry have taken part in returning to Parliament two Members who at one time or another have devoted themselves to the cause of our feathered friends.

When I was responsible for the Plumage Bill—which was designed to prevent beautiful ladies, and perhaps some not quite so beautiful, from wearing in their hats the feathers of lovely birds which had been destroyed by cruel means or were liable to become extinct—I had the great privilege of the help of my noble friend Lord Grey of Fallodon in drawing up the Bill and its Schedules. I feel sure that Lord Grey is with us in spirit to-day. He would rejoice to know that this Bill, which has been so ably piloted through another place by the noble Lady, Lady Tweedsmuir, is now before your Lordships' House and he would wish it the greatest success. May I say, also, that I feel he would be delighted 'to know that this Bill, so ably presented to your Lordships' House to-day, 'has been presented by the son of a great friend of his, better known to us as John Buchan, a man of great ability, charm and integrity, a great fisherman and a very knowledgeable lover of birds, a poet and a great novelist but an even greater biographer, whose last years were spent as an outstanding Governor-General of Canada. It is with the greatest pleasure that I wish a speedy passage to the Statute Book of this Bill so ably presented to your Lordships by John Buchan's son.

11.22 a.m.


My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lady, Lady Tweedsmuir, and the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, on this Bill. The main point I want to make is one which has already been made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt—the question of small boys bird's-nesting. If have studied the Bill to see whether I could make any suggestions on how the difficulty could be overcome, but I confess that I cannot see any means of doing it without jeopardising the principle which the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, enunciated as being the basic principle of the. Bill—namely, that, with certain exceptions, our wild birds and their eggs are to be protected. On the other hand, I do not believe that these small boys do a great deal of harm. I am certain that a great number of people who are now interested in wild birds started their interest by a bird's-nesting expedition in their Easter holiday, though it is true that some of them carry on that hobby into later life and sometimes become a little black-hearted, because the real grown-up egg collector is inclined not only to take the eggs but the nest as well; and that is to be deplored. The small boy generally takes one egg. He attempts to blow it, finds it a hard task and gets lost.

I am not clear whether there is a real unbalance in the Bill arising through the predominance of a particular breed of bird which is not mentioned in any of the Schedules but which is covered by Clause 1. If so, is there any means of overcoming that difficulty? I have in mind a peculiar problem on my own river, where there is every evidence of an excessive number of swans. I have seen as many as sixty swans together in one place.


Wild swans?


So far as I know they are wild; nobody has succeeded in taming them. They are mute swans, which are not mentioned in the Schedule. It may be necessary to try to reduce their numbers, and as the Bill stands to-day it would be an offence to do so. They are a nuisance to fishing and drive away other birds, and in consequence there is rather an unbalance. Other forms of bird life may equally predominate in other places, though I cannot think of any at the moment. But it is a point which might be worth considering. With that, I, like others, welcome the Bill, and I hope that any points which may be raised on the Committee stage will be dealt with sympathetically by the House.

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

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