HL Deb 13 May 1954 vol 187 cc626-34

5.48 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move that the Bill be now read a third time. I do not think the House will expect more than a few words from me. I should like to thank everyone in your Lordships' House who has taken part in the debates on this Bill. Some have supported the Bill, some have opposed it, but no one has attempted to hinder it. I should like to pay a special tribute to my noble friend Lord Templewood, for his unfailingly generous and helpful attitude throughout the passage of the Bill. I think that in the various stages we have had a pretty full discussion of the Bill. We are about to send it back to another place with rather more than forty Amendments. We have had no Divisions. We have all endeavoured to make it a Bill that is fair. I suppose that is the basic difference between the making of laws in a free country and in an Iron Curtain country. In an Iron Curtain country the citizens may find some edict riveted upon them and they will say, "This is fair because it is the law"; whereas in our country and in all other free countries it is not fair because it is the law, but it is the law because it is fair.

The real purpose of this Bill is to put the law regarding bird protection on a basis where it is simple and, because it is simple, is intelligible, and because it is intelligible is enforceable, and because it is enforceable will be respected. In bringing my few remarks to a close, it suffices to say that no one can be completely satisfied on every single point on a Bill like this. We have all had to give way on certain things, some of which we felt rather strongly about, in order to get that necessary degree of compliance and agreement which really is the essence of a Bill of this kind. And I think nobody has had to give up more in that particular regard than I have myself. I believe this Bill, after a pretty full and fair debate, has now received what might be termed the maximum obtainable degree of support. My Lords, I commend it to you.

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

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, deserves the heartiest congratulations from the House at having at last successfully steered this most needed Bill to the Statute Book. My only regret on the passage of this Bill is that it has been rather too quickly taken; I feel that if more time could have been given between the various stages it would have been an even better Bill than it is at the present time. It would have enabled us, perhaps, to have devised some means whereby the kingfisher could receive the protection so many of us desire him to obtain everywhere except in fish hatcheries. It would also have enabled us to go more fully into the position of the Brent goose, because I think there has been a considerable amount of unintentional misstatement on that matter. I am not going to weary your Lordships by going into details, but I have in my hand a letter from a very experienced wildfowler who knows the North-east coast of England very well indeed, and his evidence is that the number of Brent geese there over the last twenty years or so has been not about twenty or twenty-two but over 200; and, furthermore, that the former populations of 6,000 a year were of a most exceptional character and over a period of years only, while during the last sixteen years there have been varying numbers from nought to 500 or 600. The numbers at Coquet Island have been 3,500, and another 3,500 only a little further away to the south. It is obvious that far more investigation needs to be carried out before the status of the Brent goose can properly be determined.

One small point. I regret that your Lordships should have accepted the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, about the continued use of the multifiring shotgun, either the shotgun repeater or the automatic. Even in the United States it has been found necessary to control this very popular weapon so that not more than three shots can be fired out of it without reloading. It is, particularly from the wildfowl point of view, a most murderous instrument, because as the position on the shoulder changes as a result of the recoil at each shot, it is difficult to fire accurately, to single fire at a bird. I have had experience of both forms of weapon and I consider them to be of not at all a sporting nature and not suitable for either game shooting or wildfowl shooting in this country. With those few criticisms, in company, I hope, with the whole of your Lordships, I welcome this Bill, which has been needed for very many years past. It will go a long way towards establishing protection for birds which we have all desired to protect for many years but which hitherto we have not succeeded in doing.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I do not rise to continue the discussion just restarted by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield; I rise for a different purpose. Let me at the outset thank Lord Tweedsmuir for what he said about me. As a matter of fact, if thanks are due they are due to a great many other people. They are due to the noble Lords who now and over a period of several years have been raising this question. They are due also to the two Advisory Committees of the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, upon whose recommendations this Bill is based. I rise, however, first to point out to noble Lords that we are to-day celebrating a double event. I do not imagine that a husband and wife have ever before passed through the Houses of Parliament not merely a long Bill like this but any Bill at all. We congratulate the noble Lord and the noble Lady upon their very great success.

Secondly, I venture to point out to noble Lords who have taken an interest in this question that a great deal of the success of the Bill—and I am assuming that the Bill will pass in much the form in which it is leaving the House to-day—will depend upon its administration. I have particularly in mind the need for the Home Secretary at once to appoint the new statutory Advisory Committee that is contemplated in the Bill and to ask it to deal with the various questions, of which there are several in the Bill, upon which they have liberty of action. I have particularly in mind the question of the date for the close time for shore-shooting. The Home Secretary, I suggest, should appoint a Committee without delay: and if I might make a further suggestion I would say he would be wise to avoid a mistake that I think was made with the previous Advisory Committee—namely, to have it too big and to have it represent particular interests. I should have thought the kind of Advisory Committee that is needed is not a committee to represent particular interests, but quite a small body of men and possibly women who take a reasonable view of the questions covered by the Bill. If they need expert advice or partisan advice they can get it from the witnesses they summon.

Having made those two or three observations, let me say that my position is very much the position that has just been described by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I am very glad the Bill is passing, but I do not disguise from the House the fact that I regret certain changes that have been made in it in another place. I think we should have been wiser to have kept to the position adopted in the discussions upon my Bill. However, I fully realise that with a Private Member's Bill of sixteen clauses and only limited time for its discussion in another place, it would not have been wise to face a long-protracted issue upon questions of that kind and it was better to accept the second or third best provided that we could get the Bill. Now, once again, I congratulate the noble Lord and ask him to convey to the noble Lady my equally sincere congratulations. I only hope the Home Secretary will now bring the machinery into operation at the earliest possible moment, and that the machinery will prove effective.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support everything which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, has said, and also to join in the thanks and congratulations which have been tendered to Lord Tweedsmuir and the noble Lady in another place. Fol- lowing on the Bill introduced in your Lordships' House, they have advanced this question to a point at which a major reform in the existing law will have been achieved. I think that some of the revisions which have more latterly been made, under pressure or representations from various quarters, are unfortunate, but it is too late now to reopen these questions. I feel that all who have the interests of wild birds at heart will look to the administrative machinery to be established under the Bill as the best means of providing the solution. I think that one of the most unfortunate changes made since the Bill was originally before your Lordships' House was the automatic extension of the close time for shore-shooting, which is flat against the views of conservationists and also against those of many wildfowlers. In many counties where there has hitherto been protection after an early date in February, they deplore the fact that, as the Bill stands, there will be an automatic extension of shooting to the 21st of the month. As regards the Advisory Committee, I hope with Lord Templewood, that it will not be composed of a number of representative interests who will come and urge a lot of conflicting points of view—destructionists, on the one side, and sentimental protectionists, on the other. Surely, what is needed is people who have some knowledge of natural life and the biological principles—the whole trend of the natural life of the country—and who can give impartial advice.

There is only one further matter to which I should like to refer. I am completely unrepentant in my view that the plover has discovered, in the course of evolution, what is the best season of the year for it to try to rear its family. I think the plover is much more likely to be right in that matter than your Lordships. I am sure that we shall all regret having re-exposed the plover to having its eggs taken up to April 15. I do not say that a great many clutches would not be destroyed in the ordinary process of agricultural operations, but, as the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has pointed out, that may equally happen to the second clutch. I feel that a bird which is not by nature normally double-breeding should not be put to the strain of laying this weight of eggs twice over. I hope that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, will forgive me if I tell your Lordships what a German ornithologist told me three or four days ago. A small town in North Germany was in the habit of presenting Bismarck, on his birthday, with a number of plovers' eggs corresponding to his years. As he grew older, the toll naturally increased. Eventually, the townspeople, partly I think because the bird had diminished in numbers in the locality, were obliged to make up the total; then had to import a contribution from Holland. I trust that the many admirers of the noble and learned Earl in various parts of the country will not hit upon the plan of paying to him the same kind of tribute which was paid to Bismarck, with a similar effect on the plover population of the neighbourhood.

Such matter apart, I would earnestly ask the noble Lord who speaks for the Home Office to look again, with the noble Lady in another place, at this matter, and to consider whether it is wise to reopen the trade in these eggs. It is one thing to say that the farmer or the landowner who is about to harrow his field may remove the eggs, but to reopen the market and encourage importation from abroad cannot by any stretch of imagination, I submit, be said to be in the interest of the plover. With those few comments, I again repeat that those of us who are interested in the cause of bird protection, in the narrower sense, and the conservation of nature, in the wider sense, tender our grateful thanks to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, has well earned the gratitude of those of your Lordships who have spoken on this Bill during the course of its various stages. As one who, through ignorance or modesty, or both, did not open his mouth, but listened with the greatest interest, I should like to say to-day that I know there are many people who, like myself, will wish this Bill well. I am glad to see it going on to the Statute Book. I should like also to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, for piloting the Bill so ably through your Lordships' House. Those of us who saw him last week in the different stages of the Bill, facing fire, cross-fire, and even back-fire on many of the clauses, will have greatly admired the extraordinarily lucid way in which he put his case and the great grasp which he showed of this Bill.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to say more than a few words. I had meant merely to wish very good luck to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, and his Lady, and to express the hope that this Bill would secure a passage to law at the earliest possible moment of time. I think the noble Lord has been very wise in the line which he has taken. I believe that we have obtained the largest common measure of agreement. I think this House is rather well qualified to speak on a Bill of this sort because we have among us many noble Lords with considerable knowledge of these matters. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in that I think it was a mistake that we rather rushed the time between the various stages of the Bill. The fact that we had long discussions—there were undoubtedly long and elaborate discussions—is no reason for curtailing the interval of time between those discussions. If anything, it is rather a reason for extending the time. However, I make not the smallest complaint about that.

The only speech which has struck a discordant note to-day—and it was singularly ill-timed—was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, to which we have just listened. I am really amazed at the attitude which he takes up. I should like to ask the noble Lord this question. If he could imagine that there was an insurance company, whose task it was to underwrite the lives of young lapwings, does he really think that the premium for the young lapwing born in April would be less than the premium for the young lapwing born in May? I should have thought that, to anyone of ordinary intelligence, it was perfectly obvious that if the young lapwing emerges in May it has a better chance of survival from its enemies than if it emerges into the light of day in April. I really think that saying that "the plover knows best" is worthless; it is merely trying to find some reason for what is nothing more than a sentimental objection. In the speech of Lord Hurcomb we saw the sentimentalist coming out.

It is just those sentimentalists who have done such infinite harm in this matter of the peewit. I said this in 1928, when I tried to stop the most unhappy Bill passed in that year. Lord Hurcomb will probably agree with me that the number of peewits has gone down drastically since we stopped taking eggs in April. I doubt whether we now have 5 per cent. of the peewit population that we had then. I believe that the policy which we then adopted was fundamentally wrong. I earnestly hope that under the new system the peewit, that most beautiful and useful bird, will once more enlarge its numbers. I am certain that we have taken the wrong line in the past. However, we have now agreed that we shall have at least a five-years' trial period—I hope it will be longer—and in the course of those years we may begin to see the trend. I, at any rate, am one of those who are prepared to learn the lessons of experience. I may be wrong, and I may find that this does no good at all, or that it makes the situation worse; but if, as I devoutly hope, I find the peewit population beginning to increase, because in future they will be born in May and not in April, I shall be pleased to think that I, too, played a small part in the passing of what I think is a very useful Bill.


My Lords, I shall be commendably brief. The noble and learned Earl said he thought the Bill had been rushed between stages, but I do not feel that is so. Even if he be right, it should be remembered that Private Members' Bills are not always as other Bills, because of the difficulties about their time-table. I think it can be said, however, that we have given as much time to this subject as to almost any subject, including major nationalisation projects, that I recall in my time in your Lordships' House. The matter has been very fully discussed and, on the whole, I feel happy that the Bill will leave this House as a very commendable measure.

I have always believed, as I have said before, that if this Bill is to be a really effective Act of Parliament it must command a broad measure of general agreement and support amongst all the people concerned. A number of noble Lords have spoken this afternoon and I do not think that one has professed himself entirely satisfied with the Bill. I regard that as a very good omen. As my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir said, everybody has had to give up something, but we have achieved broadly a general measure of agreement. It only remains for me to say that to the many people responsible, to the Advisory Committee, to the Ilchester Committee, to the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who gave us an opportunity of discussing these matters on previous occasions, to the noble Lady, Lady Tweedsmuir, who piloted the Bill through another place, and, last but not least, to my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir, we are all grateful. Even if noble Lords do not think the Bill is perfect, I am certain that when it becomes law, as I hope it will very shortly, the law will be an enormous advance on anything we have known in this country before. I think that is all I need say, except once again to thank my noble friend.

On Question, Bill read 3a with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.

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