HL Deb 20 May 1965 vol 266 cc578-628

4.20 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which seeks to bring up to date in certain particulars the principal Act of 1954, I may perhaps be allowed to recall that that Act was based on a Bill introduced into this House by the late Lord Templewood, later introduced in another place by Lady Tweedsmuir, and successfully piloted through this House by her husband, my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir. That Act improved and codified the existing legislation; and, in repealing wholly or in part 26 existing Statutes, superseded a mass of special local and confusing enactments. It generalised the scheme of protection, and, in doing so, recognised that birds are themselves oblivious of man-made administrative boundaries.

While leaving reasonable room for flexibility in certain circumstances, the Act thus established the principle that in, Great Britain all wild birds and their eggs are entitled to protection at all times, subject to the allowance of certain exceptions, needed in the main to meet the requirements of agriculture or sporting interests. A number of rare birds were given additional protection by the provision of heavy penalties. Certain methods of killing or taking wild birds were prohibited, and restrictions were placed on the sale and importation of wild birds and their eggs. Power was given to the appropriate authorities to grant licences for scientific or other necessary purposes, and the flexibility to which I have referred was secured through a power given to the Secretaries of State concerned to vary the Schedules, in which certain rare, sporting or harmful species were grouped. In their administration of the Act, the Secretaries of State are enjoined to have recourse to the Statutory Advisory Committees, on which all interests concerned are represented.

My Lords, the policy of scientific conservation of wild life has developed rapidly in recent years, and notable advances in this matter have been made in this country, which is now regarded in most respects as an example to others. It is only to be expected that, in the same period, standards and practices of conservation should develop in parallel, and occasionally require adjustment; and I agree with the conclusion reached by, I believe, the Advisory Committee on the Protection of Birds for England and Wales, that many of the provisions of this Bill have now become desirable. Subject to that and to a point which I shall mention in a moment, I think it may fairly be said that the Act of 1954 has gone far towards achieving its purposes, and that it has worked well. My noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir has sometimes asked me whether it is really effective. I think that in most respects it has been effective—for example, in stopping any extensive commercial dealing in wild birds' eggs—but I am bound to add that the lack of any power in constables to search on reasonable cause for suspicion those suspected of taking, or being about to take, eggs illegally is a serious weakness in the enforcement of its provisions.

As I say, the commercial trade in eggs, at least, has been scotched, but the mis- guided, selfish and quite unscientific trophy hunters are still a menace to many of our rare and marginal species. Though I recognise all the difficulties about increasing the powers of search, and have included no such provision in this Bill, I hope that further consideration may be given to some strengthening of the present powers of search, which are limited to cases where a person is actually found committing an offence. No one in fact goes and takes a rare bird's eggs if he knows that he is being watched, but if he can do it at night, or get away from the actual ground and put the eggs in his car or his boat, it seems a pity that he should escape scot-free.

I recognise, of course, that the conservation of our wild life cannot be achieved wholly, or perhaps mainly, by restrictive legislation. Education, and especially education of the young, though it needs to be backed by law, is equally important and, in the long run, equally powerful. For that reason, I submit that the scheme of legislation should itself be rational and its purposes readily intelligible—and that, again, will ease the task of enforcement. Several of the provisions of this short Bill, as I hope to show, are directed to these ends, and they simplify as well as strengthen the existing measure. Other proposals that I am making will bring under control, through licensing, practices and devices which experience has shown need the utmost care in their application if risks of serious damage to bird life are to be avoided. Ringing and netting are examples, though in proper hands both practices can make a very great contribution to knowledge.

Before I describe to your Lordships, briefly, the various clauses of the Bill, I am glad to express my deep indebtedness to my noble friend Lord Stonham, to the Home Secretary and to his Department and their legal advisers for their unstinted help and co-operation in the preparation of this Bill. Consideration of these matters has been going on for many years in the Advisory Committees to which I have referred—behind the scenes, perhaps, but for some time—and I shall not be going too far when I say that the committees are generally in favour of the provisions in this Bill and that the Home Department and the Scottish Office will not be sorry to see them dealt with in Parliament.

Now, my Lords, I come to the clauses. Clause 1 is perhaps the one most likely to give rise to differences of opinion. It gives complete instead of partial protection to the eggs of the lapwing—a bird which is under great pressure in most parts of the country, as a result of contraction of its breeding places, and which, as your Lordships know, is wholly beneficial to agriculture. I ought to say, in passing, that the prohibition on importation applies to Northern Ireland under Clause 10, and is the only provision in the Bill which does apply to Northern Ireland, for the reason that, while importation is a matter for the Imperial Parliament, the internal protection of birds is a matter for the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Parliament. I expect that some of your Lordships will object to this increased protection for the lapwing egg, and I shall be glad to argue that matter further, if necessary, on the Committee stage.

Complete protection to the lapwing was refused in your Lordships' House some ten years ago, largely on the arguments of the late Lord Jowitt. He said, with all the flattering skill of a great advocate, that your Lordships knew better the best time of year for the lapwing to lay its eggs than the lapwing did itself—a view which no biologist in the world will accept and which most of them, I am afraid, would deride. I also annoyed Lord Jowitt, I am afraid, by narrating a story about Prince Bismarck, who in his younger days was given a present of lapwings' eggs on his birthday by the inhabitants of his native village. But as he grew older and the number of eggs given increased, so the taking of the eggs in that particular neighbourhood increased with the result that the lapwing population decreased, and the villagers had to import their eggs from Holland. I am sure that that is a process which we do not want to see happen here. There are many reasons why I submit that this permission to take lapwing eggs up to the middle of April is not logical or scientific, or in the interests of that attractive bird, which is wholly beneficial to agriculture. I will not take up any more of your Lordships' time on that point because I suspect that I shall have to argue it at another stage of the Bill.

The other part of the clause which may also be controversial withdraws the power to deprive the eggs of certain common, harmless birds of the protection which they would otherwise enjoy. I am very grateful to the late Home Secretary and his Scottish colleague for having responded to my appeal to revoke the Orders originally made, on the plea that the birds in question suffered severely in the hard winter of 1962–63. The power has not since been exercised, and your Lordships may ask why in that case it is necessary to remove the power to make some Order of the kind again in future. I submit that there are several reasons for that.

In the first place, it is beside the point to argue that the birds in question are common birds. No one argues that taking the robin's eggs, for example, is going to convert the robin into a rare bird. But what the existence of that Order has done is to make it impossible, or at least very difficult, for teachers to inculcate a meaningful respect for wild life. To tell a boy that he may take a skylark's egg but not a woodlark's or meadow pipit's egg is really not an argument which you can get into the young mind. Teachers throughout the country, quite apart from protectionists, have themselves said that all their efforts fall down when they try to explain the difference between what is permissible and what is not permissible. It also makes enforcement difficult because the police cannot distinguish, any more than the children, the eggs of many of the birds that used to figure in the lists. I think that on both those grounds the Order contravenes the principle which I advocate of an intelligible basis for the law and a really easy and unconfusing method of enforcement.

There is another reason. The existence of the power to make those Orders is one of the main obstacles—not the only one, but the main one—to this country's signing the International Convention for the Protection of Birds. As I know from personal experience, nothing is more exasperating and, in a sense, humiliating than to be reproached in countries abroad and at international meetings for our failure to ratify the Convention on this ground by countries whose laws and practices are, in fact, inferior to our own.

I should like also to call your Lordships' attention to a point which I think is likely to be raised by some of my noble friends who fear that the revocation of these Orders has given protection to the eggs of the black-headed gull. I should agree with those of your Lordships who regard the immense multiplication of our gull population, through changes in fishing, through the provision of town refuse dumps, and through other causes solely due to man and not to any vice in the birds, as a menace to many other species of birds. I should be the last person to claim protection for the black-headed gull, whose eggs many of us have been eating in our clubs for some weeks past. I suspect that there is confusion here in the minds of those who fear that result. The principal Act declares that it will not be an offence to take the black-headed gull's eggs for the purposes of human consumption or for dog or poultry food. All the Order did, if I am right, was to make it no offence to take it merely out of wantonness or for egg collection. If, however, there is a real question about protection of the black-headed gull's eggs T will look into that before the Committee stage. But I think that that fear is based on a misapprehension.

Lastly, I do not want to appear sentimental, but I think it is fair to say that the list when it was compiled was not a very pretty one. The Advisory Committee, having to produce a list, probably could do nothing better. But do we really want to legalise expressly the taking of the eggs of the robin, our national bird, or of the song thrush, the skylark and the linnet, the favourite inspiration of our poets; or even the Jenny Wren? If I may repeat the point which I made just now, it is a great embarrassment to have to defend that sort of list in foreign countries and to have to say that those are the birds which we actually incite our children to plunder.

I come now to Clause 2, on which I need say little, because it embodies a Bill which my noble friend Lord Mansfield got through your Lordships' House some three years ago but which made no further progress. It prohibits the sale of dead wild geese throughout the year instead of during the close season only, thus closing a loophole for the commercial exploitation of wild geese of which there were signs. With the mobility of the population, the growth of the habit of people going out in motor cars and shooting anything they can find, I have little doubt that that restriction is well justified and, indeed, required. But I shall leave my noble friend Lord Mansfield to argue it for himself, and merely remark that the prohibition in no way interferes with the practice of legitimate sportsmen.

Clause 3 prohibits the wilful disturbance of nesting birds of the rare species named in the First Schedule to the principal Act, or in bird sanctuaries. This should not, and in my opinion will not, embarrass any experienced and careful photographers—a class of men to whom ornithology and television owe so much. But I think that the Advisory Committee are right in their view that a statutory rule in this matter will promote a right standard of behaviour by the overzealous. I will not take up your Lordships' time by going into details, but I may say that I know of cases of particular species which have suffered very much from too much zeal, both by the photographer and by the mere bird-watcher. I would emphasise to your Lordships that it applies only to the birds in the First Schedule to the principal Act, some fifty species in all, some of which are seen in this country only once and again. If the wording "wilful disturbance" can be improved, I should be glad to consider any other form of drafting which will give the protection required and yet not unduly hamper those who, for scientific or other reasons, wish to photograph a rare bird.

Clause 4 is important, because it brings under control by licence the growing practice of ringing birds. Immense advances in our knowledge of birds and of the migration of birds have been secured by ringing, but a point has been reached at which this practice, unless carried out by properly instructed persons, can do a good deal of damage to bird populations. With the goodwill of the ornithological organisations, no difficulties will occur, I am sure, in the administration of the licensing machinery under the existing Act, so permitting all legitimate activities of this kind by properly qualified persons to continue.

Clause 5 similarly regulates and restricts to properly authorised persons the use of certain substances and of nets for the taking of birds. Here again, in connection, for example, with catching birds for ringing, there is a real risk of material damage to birds, if nets are used by inexperienced persons without great care and without good reason. I regret that the attempted definition of a mist net in the Bill will not do as it stands, but I hope to overcome this difficulty by some Amendment on Committee stage. But any definition such as is now attempted is probably unnecessary. The clause also substitutes "substance" for "bait" and permits, under licence, the use of gas for the destruction of certain birds. This may seem a curious provision to insert in a measure for the protection of birds, but, just as I said that the scheme of legislation ought to be rational, intelligible and enforceable, so I think that it ought to be acceptable, and, where legitimate interests and purposes need it, to give some special exemption. Therefore I do not feel any difficulty in proposing this slight extension of the existing powers of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have given me an assurance that gas would be used only inside buildings for the destruction of feral pigeons and sparrows.

Clause 6 deals with a very different matter. It gives the Secretaries of State power to suspend the killing of wild fowl temporarily, even in the open season, in specially severe weather conditions. The power will be exercisable only after consultation with a specially constituted body, which will include a representative of the Advisory Council, a repesentative of the Nature Conservancy and a representative of wild fowling interests. I hope, and I feel confident, that the representative of the wild fowling interests will be chosen from the Wildfowlers' Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is President. They are a responsible body. They are very much alive to the need for conservation, and, indeed, are themselves active in many directions in promoting conservation of wild fowl. The exact circumstances in which this power should be exercised, I suggest, can be further discussed with the Advisory Council and the wild-fowlers, but I think—and I feel that your Lordships will agree—that the power should be conferred now. We do not know what our climate is capable of. I think that the power should be given in such a way as to leave the Secretaries of State reasonable latitude in how they should go about exercising their power to make an Order, because it is essential that this should be done swiftly.

There is an important provision in the clause which enables Orders to be made in particular areas and not necessarily wholesale throughout Great Britain, where, as experience shows, conditions can vary considerably during a hard winter between one area and another. Clause 7 may again strike some people as a curious provision in a protection measure, but difficulty has arisen from the absolute prohibition by the principal Act of the destruction of rare First Schedule birds, even if it can be proved that they are doing serious damage to crops, fisheries or other property. This clause extends the power of the Secretaries of State to authorise such destruction by licence of a number of birds to be specified.

While I am not altogether enthusiastic about this provision, I think that in recognition of the general principle of enforceability being better secured, if the measure is reasonable and acceptable to all the interests concerned, a concession is not unreasonable. It must be subject to strict safeguards and those are provided in the clause. It recognises, in other words, that even among the rare birds there can be rogue individuals who are capable of doing a good deal of damage. Indeed, with this concession, the protection afforded by the First Schedule not only can be more acceptable, but possibly may be extended to cover one or two birds which, ten years ago, your Lordships decided to omit because of the very difficulties I have mentioned. Among them I would mention the kingfisher, which, as the result of hard winters, has become almost extinct in many countries of Europe and unfortunately is much rarer in this country than it used to be.

Clause 8 deals, again on the principle of making the general scheme of protection more acceptable, with the peculiar point affecting gannets in the island of Sula Sgeir. With so many Members from North of the Border present, perhaps I, who do not know that area, ought not to take up too much of your Lordships' time on this question, but it is not without interest. For at least 400 years, teams of crofter fishermen from the Ness district of Lewis—frequently referred to, I believe, as the Men of Ness—have made annual visits in the late summer to this isolated, rocky island some thirty or forty miles off the Butt of Lewis, for the purpose of taking young gannets. The birds are salted down for winter food, and I believe there is some sale of surplus birds. It is held by the naturalists most familiar with the problem that this practice has in no way endangered the survival of the gannetry, and, if continued, will not do so. But under the principal Act there is a close time which the Secretaries of State cannot vary. It is desired now to make it possible for the men of Ness to go and take their gannets in the last half of August by giving the Secretary of State power to shorten the close season. The reason for that is that after the end of August the weather conditions are such that it is unsafe in normal years to go by sea over to this rock. I feel that this is no real gap in the scheme of protection, and, as I have said, I think the scheme of protection becomes generally more acceptable if isolated local conditions are adequately met. The gannets themselves are not in a position to protest, and I feel in no way bound to make any protest on their behalf.

The last clause I need mention is Clause 9, which is of a very different character. The 1954 Act, as I have said, repealed a mass of local enactments and generalised the scheme of protection. Some people took the view at the time that there would be a consequent diminution in the interest taken by local authorities in its enforcement. I do not think that this is altogether true. I believe that in many ways we have seen an increase in the interest of many county councils in the protection of their wild life. But they themselves, through their associations, have felt that some extension of their power would be desirable, and, therefore, the clause gives them power to make known the provisions of the principal Act and this Bill in extension of the existing power they have, which is limited to the effect of local orders.

I think I have said all that I need say, and perhaps too much, about the clauses of this Bill. I will conclude by saying that, in general, just as the mobility of the population is increasing and the number of people who are interested in subjects of this sort is increasing, so in some respects the scheme of protection needs to be enlarged and strengthened. I hope, therefore, that, although this measure makes only a very small move in the right direction over a tiny part of the field of conservation, your Lordships will nevertheless be favourably inclined towards it. Your Lordships' House has never taken the view that the protection of our wild life, of the natural beauty of the country or our coastline, is a question of nature against man. More and more, surely, all these objects are becoming increasingly important human interests; and because your Lordships' House has always been alive to the fundamental significance of wise action in these directions, I hope that you will give this Bill a second reading this afternoon. I beg to move.

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

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all delighted that this particular Bill has been introduced by my noble friend Lord Hurcomb. After a career of distinguished public service, he has for many years devoted his notable energies and experience to the service of natural history, conservation and amenity. He has taken a leading role in most of the key organisations and helped to weld their activities into a general advance towards new standards of wild life protection. To-day he has spoken to us with the considerable authority of the President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, President of the Field Studies Council, Vice-President of the Council for Nature, a member of the Nature Conservancy's Committee for England and Vice-President of "The Countryside in 1970" Study Conference. He is eminently well fitted, therefore, to present this Bill and to win support for it from those of us who share his concern for the national heritage in wild life.

Your Lordships may recall that on February 9 the noble Lord asked me when it would be possible to introduce the "long-awaited Bill" for the amendment of the Protection of Birds Act, 1954, and in his gentle way he reminded me that he himself had taken the first step in promoting the review of the working of that Act by leading a deputation to the Home Office as long ago as 1958. Subsequently, he came to see me at the Home Office and, after we had discussed the promotion of the Bill, improved the shining hour by inviting me to make a conducted tour of the bird sanctuaries maintained by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I have not yet had time to take advantage of that offer but when I do, I could not wish for a more kindly and experienced mentor on the science of conservation and the facts of bird life.

I am also, personally, particularly pleased that this Bill is to be the occasion of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, one of my very old personal friends from the West Country, who has played a prominent part in the activities of the British Field Sports Society. I know that we shall all listen with the greatest interest to what he has to say.

It is perhaps as well to remind ourselves that the proposals in the principal Act were prepared with great care over a number of years, and that it introduced major developments in the law protecting wild birds, by substituting, as my noble friend has said, a general principle of protection for a loose and confused collection of Acts and local Orders. It may seem to some people that by 1958, when the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds first made new representations, hardly sufficient time had elapsed in which to assess any shortcomings in the 1954 Act. Even if that were so in 1958, we can confidently accept the general conclusion reached by the Advisory Committees that the Act has proved to be a valuable legislative measure and commands a wide and growing degree of public support. Moreover, the Committees' careful inquiries into current difficulties in wild bird protection do not seem to have disclosed support for those who allege that the law is too difficult to enforce, or is being widely breached, to the serious detriment of any established species in Great Britain.

So much for the past. Looking to the future, the Committees urged that amending legislation should be considered without delay, and they gave three main reasons. First, that scientific conservation policy and the standards of practice are developing rapidly; second, that the standards of protection in the 1954 Act fall short in some respects of what is accepted, for example, in the International Convention for the Protection of Wild Birds, 1950 (to which my noble friend referred and about which I shall have a little to say later on); and, third, that practical problems of enforcement continue to absorb effort on the part of voluntary organisations which would be much better devoted to publicity and education. It was on this basis that the Committees recommended in favour of some thirteen proposals for amendment of the 1954 Act.

During 1964, these proposals, together with two others submitted by the Nature Conservancy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, were circulated to interested organisations for comment. The replies indicated general support for a number of the proposals, but they expressed no strong anxiety about the need for early legislative action. Nevertheless, preparations had been made for possible amending legislation when the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, took the initiative in proposing to introduce his Bill. As he was gracious enough to acknowledge, the Departments concerned have given what assistance they could, and the Bill contains most of the proposals favoured by the Advisory Committees after exhaustive discussion.

From what I have said, your Lordships will appreciate that the Advisory Committees themselves have given as much thought to the balance of interests in wild bird protection as to the underlying principles of the balance of nature, and we all appreciate their wisdom in doing this. As proceedings on the 1954 Bill showed, it is not easy to reconcile all the differing interests involved in bird protection. There are often difficult scientific issues to be resolved. Time has to be allowed for public opinion to develop if reforms are not to be made sterile for lack of public support. One of the strengths of the 1954 Act has proved to be the flexible machinery it provides for authorising, by Order or licence, departures from the general code of protection, and for making other adjustments so that the law can be made to reflect changing circumstances.

If this machinery has a drawback, it is that it complicates the law. I sympathise with those of your Lordships who find some of the provisions, as I do, difficult to construe. Indeed, you constantly have to read this Bill in relation to the principal Act to make quite sure where you are. From the point of view of educating the public, and in particular young people, to a proper respect for wild life, it would be attractive if the law could be written as a list of simple prohibitions, or "Dos" and "Don'ts". Unhappily, the wide range of legitimate interests which are involved in a balance of protection makes a variety of exemptions, exceptions and provisos unavoidable.

Nevertheless the general conclusion of the Advisory Committees is that the principal Act has worked very well, and for this reason Her Majesty's Government feel that the need for further improvements in standards of protection and related matters should be left for your Lordships to determine. Accordingly, the Government's attitude to the Bill is one of benevolent neutrality, and on the details of its provisions we shall be guided by your Lordships' views. I should, however, make it plain that the Government cannot give any undertaking that time will be found for consideration of the Bill in another place. Nevertheless, I think there will be general agreement that it will be valuable for the Bill to be carefully considered in this House, which traditionally (and judging by the list of speakers today the tradition is being maintained) shows a keen interest in the conservation of wild life.

Although my noble friend has explained very lucidly the clauses in the Bill, it may be helpful if, on behalf of the Government, I say a few words about some of the provisions. The first subsection of Clause 1, which is supported by the full weight of the Advisory Committees, removes the power in the principal Act to deprive the eggs of common birds of protection. As my noble friend Lord Hurcomb has pointed out, this is at present, as the law stands, a breach in the principle of protection for eggs, and it is a major obstacle to our adherence to the International Convention. When Parliament considered the "birds-nesting" provision in 1954, the balance of opinion was markedly in favour of preventing children from being prosecuted for harmless birds-nesting—and I might say here that it is a good thing this Bill was not in operation when I was a boy, and somewhat of an amateur oologist. Indeed, it was only because a sufficiently authoritative list of birds could not be drawn up in 1954 that we gave power to make an Order rather than make a substantive decision. Orders were made in 1955 but were revoked in 1963, following the severe losses to many common species in the previous severe winter.

The arguments for and against birds-nesting are familiar. Those who oppose the provision for exemption powers and support subsection (1) of Clause 1 in the Bill now before us, argue that it makes enforcement more difficult and prejudices—and I think this is true—the efforts of teachers to inculcate in children a care and respect for wild life. Of course, it has been used as an excuse for disturbing wild life in sanctuaries. Those who favour birds-nesting say that it does no harm; that it would be wrong to prosecute young people for indulging, and that it would be wrong to prohibit birds-nesting by law simply as a rule of conduct, without any intention of enforcing it. It may be that public opinion towards the protection of wild life has strengthened since 1954. Her Majesty's Government accept the view of the Advisory Committees that the matter should be further debated, and they will be guided by the views expressed.

My noble friend Lord Hurcomb indicated during his speech that he regretted the absence in the Bill, as it stands at present, of police powers to search individuals. I know that he attaches great importance to this point, but when he consulted me on the matter I felt bound to tell him that the Government would find it very difficult to agree to powers of search of this kind. That is not because we do not appreciate that there are particular difficulties in enforcing protection of wild birds, and, in particular, of their eggs, as he pointed out, but because the general precedents for police powers of search on suspicion do not seem to us to provide sufficient basis for acceptance, since it would appear to many people as an unacceptable encroachment on fundamental civil liberty. Therefore, I cannot hold out any hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this proposal at a later stage, though we shall naturally listen attentively to any views that the noble Lord and others may express.

The second subsection of Clause 1 will also simplify the law protecting eggs by removing the present provisions which permit lapwings' eggs to be taken up to April 15 in any year. I learned at lunchtime to-day that this is a matter which is exercising the minds of those noble Lords who love peewits' eggs. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb,has referred to the discussions which took place on this point in 1954 and has foreshadowed what is likely to be a discussion at a later stage, and therefore at this moment all I need say is that my own experience leads me to agree with those of your Lordships with infinite knowledge of the status and habits of lapwings who favour the change proposed in the Bill.

Clause 3 introduces a new offence of wilful disturbance of the rare birds listed in the First Schedule to the parent Act or of birds in a sanctuary. Much of the clause is concerned with exemptions for activities that are generally authorised by the principal Act. Thus a person who has a licence to take or kill a bird, or an authorised person who takes or kills Second Schedule birds, or a person who carries out any action authorised by Section 4 will not be guilty of an offence if in the process he disturbs a First Schedule bird or a bird in a sanctuary. These reservations emphasise the difficulty of making this new restriction an enforceable proposition. The restriction may also raise some of the more general questions which have surrounded the "birds-nesting" provision to which I have already referred.

Clause 5 has the general effect of introducing a requirement for the licensing of the use of cannon nets and mist nets and of gas. I should perhaps make it clear that subsection (3) will permit the use of cannon nets and mist nets for any of the purposes for which a licence may be granted under Section 10. There is no intention to restrict their use simply to the taking of birds for ringing or marking. My noble friend has mentioned the difficulty about the definition of mist nets, and there is no need for me to add anything except to say that a new formula, or two new formula, are under discussion between the interested Departments, and we shall certainly give Lord Hurcomb every possible assistance in resolving this difficulty, which I am quite sure will not prove to be a major one.

Some apprehensions may be felt about the scope of subsection (1) regarding electrical devices. I do not think that there need be any grounds for anxiety. The words, "electrical device designed to frighten birds" must be read with the qualifying words in subsection (1)(a) of Section 5 of the principal Act: … being an article which is of such a nature and is so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming in contact therewith. There is no intention whatever of making innocuous bird-scarers subject to a licensing requirement. Indeed, no provision has been included in the Bill to license the setting in position of electronic bird-scarers. There would be obvious difficulty about providing such a power where the device is likely to cause a painful death—a bird could be burned horribly—or serious injury to any bird which happened to touch it. If, however, the interests concerned consider that the present wording in the Bill is unsatisfactory, I am sure that Lord Hurcomb will be willing to consider suggestions as to how it can be improved.

Clause 6 introduces a new power to ban shooting in severe weather conditions. It is greatly to the credit of the Wildfowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland that they have collaborated with the Nature Conservancy in producing the basic proposals for such a scheme. The provision as drafted, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, leaves a good deal of discretion in the determination of the conditions when such an Order might be considered, and lays down a fairly simple procedure for consultation. I am aware that the shooting interests attach the greatest importance to assurances that the power provided by the clause should not be used unreasonably. It may be that they would prefer to see a more complicated provision of checks and balances to be introduced in order to safeguard their interests. This is a difficult matter which will require careful discussion. All I would say to-day is that it is the intention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to consult their Advisory Committees about the general policy which should govern any exercise of the power provided by this clause, and to give every opportunity to the shooting interests to demonstrate that a voluntary restriction on shooting should be given a further trial before considering, in consultation with the persons specified in the clause, the need for a statutory ban. If it would be helpful I am willing to see representatives of the interests affected, in the hope that any misapprehensions they may have can be removed.

Looking at Clause 8 I find it very tempting to go into this fascinating story of the men of Ness and Sula Sgeir, but I will refrain—although I hope that at a later stage of the debate some noble Lords will tell me if the young gannets—or cookers, if that is what they are correctly called—which are preserved for later sale and consumption are eviscerated before being preserved, or whether it is customary to eat them whole.

I promised to say a word about the International Convention on the Protection of Birds, 1950. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with this Convention will know that its requirements are expressed in very detailed terms. Hitherto, successive Governments have felt unable to ratify the Convention because in several important respects the standards of protection in our law are inconsistent with the provisions of that Convention. In particular, the provision included in subsection (4)(a) of Section 2 of the principal Act, enabling the Secretaries of State to prescribe common wild birds whose eggs may be taken without committing an offence, runs counter to the strict principle of protection for eggs laid down in the Convention. This means that if your Lordships will support Clause 1 of the Bill a major obstacle to United Kingdom adherence to the Convention will be removed. Unfortunately, however, because this Convention is written in very specific terms, there would remain a number of other items where United Kingdom law and the Convention diverge.

The Government's consultations with interested organisations have not disclosed any strong wish for the necessary amendments to remove all the difficulties, and therefore I cannot give any assurance that if the Bill we are debating to-day were to pass in its present form it would necessarily have the additional merit of making possible adherence to the Convention. On the other hand, it may be that the Convention itself needs revision if it is to be a suitable instrument, as its title purports, for world-wide application; and it may be that in the fullness of time this will be found to be the appropriate solution.

Be that as it may, I do not think your Lordships will question that standards of protection in this country are high, or that the passing of this Bill will still further improve them. For that state of affairs we are all indebted to the promoter of the Bill, whose experience and energies have been so long devoted to this cause, and to the many organisations who, in one way or another, have collaborated in producing the proposals contained in his Bill. We wish him well.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, I ask the indulgence of the House on this, the occasion of my maiden speech, although I think I should say that about 23 years ago, when I made a maiden speech in another place, it was made in this Chamber. At that time I was so foolish, green and nervous; and the next morning when I opened the newspapers and looked at my post I found that there was no account of the debate in the Press and that it was kept a secret, and I had to make another speech shortly afterwards to assure my constituents that I was still alive.

My reason for venturing to take part in this debate to-day is that I have always had the countryside and its birds and beasts much at heart. I am interested in agriculture which, with the advance of science, plays a considerable part for our wild life. I had the honour of serving for two terms and part of another on the Nature Conservancy, latterly presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale, who is in his seat today, although I am sorry to understand that he is not going to make a speech on this occasion. During my term on the Nature Conservancy I had the pleasure of working with, and hearing the views of, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, in regard to many things, and I know how much he treasures the needs of our wild life as a whole. I think he will agree that the present work of conservation is rather taking the place of the work of preservation, which was more a problem at the time of the 1954 Act to which this Bill refers. This allows for a certain taking of a crop or culling of our wild birds or beasts periodically in the best interests of reproducing a particular species. It may be necessary and desirable.

I should like to take the opportunity, incidentally, in referring to the Nature Conservancy—I have now left it on coming to this good House—of wishing it all good luck in its new guise as a Sub-Committee of the Natural Environment Research Council. Despite the length of that title, I am sure it will continue to do good work.

I should like now to say a word or two in general about the Bill. The existing 1954 Act is, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, a little complicated. An amending Bill to a complicated Act could, as I see it, and if we are not careful, make it more complicated. The ordinary person in the countryside does not go around with a copy of the Bill or Act or a schedule of the birds in his pocket, and I think we must be careful in dealing with this Bill to make it as plain and as simple as possible. I am also one of those who take the view that it is better not to make the village policeman's task too difficult if it can be avoided, and better not to make the youngster who inadvertently takes an egg of a bird within the predators schedule into a minor criminal. I think we must be careful about that. It is easy to confuse one bird with another unless one is fairly conversant with them.

Any criticisms I make of the Bill will not, I hope, in a maiden speech, be construed wrongly. There is no politics in it. Here I want to follow some remarks of the late Lord Jowitt, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who put in a plea in regard to the position of plovers' eggs. I would venture to ask: Why protect the plovers' eggs before April 14? It is well known that the first nests become chilled others are nearly always in arable land, destroyed not by the plough, because ploughing is largely over by the time they have nested, but by the cultivator or the roller. And even if the eggs luckily hatch out, it is probable that the cold winds, late frosts and rain may destroy the chicks. On May 3 of this year I myself saw an early brood of three plover in Argyllshire. They were looking quite seedy on some wet moss, and I doubt whether they survived for long. I would therefore suggest that it is better, in the interests of the breeding of the green plover, lapwing or peewit—whichever you like to call it—to pick up the early eggs and ensure that the bird nests later in more temperate weather, and avoids the risk of being crushed and rolled in.

Since the publication of this amending Bill, T have taken the opportunity of talking to several distinguished and senior ploughmen, who probably know more about plovers' eggs than most people do, and they tell me that it is inevitable, unless the eggs are picked up, that they will be crushed or rolled, which is a disheartening affair. In this respect I suggest that it may be in the better interests of the reproduction of the lapwing if we allow the early clutches to be picked up. It will possibly mean a little pin-money for those who pick up the eggs, and indeed they could sometimes be called a form of delicacy for some of your Lordships and others.

To turn to Clause 2, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has said that this will prohibit the sale of dead wild geese. I think he said that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, agrees with that. I know that it is a rather narrowly balanced point, but I take the view that in isolated places, particularly in Scotland—this is allowed for in the 1954 Act—sometimes it is necessary, in the interests of protecting crops, to keep in control two or three thousand geese, which you can see quite easily. If it is admitted, as it is in the Bill, that they can do damage, I venture to say that it would be a great pity if some of them have to be shot and it would be resented by the farming community, certainly in the North, if these were unfortunately wasted, for only a limited number can be eaten at the place concerned. They cannot be disposed of adequately. This may be a minority view, but if this is enforced I think it will bring the Bill into disrepute.

Clause 3 refers to penalties for people doing damage and disturbing nests or eggs. This is a complicated matter. I really do not see how young people or townspeople who have not a great knowledge of birds eggs, can tell what sort of nests they are disturbing when they are rambling in the woods or over the hills or along some of our shores. I think that this provision needs looking at carefully and must be drafted with care so as not to make a total prohibition and not get members of the public into unnecessary trouble.

With regard to Clause 4 which deals with ringing and marking, I sympathise on the matter of the cruelty involved in some ringing. The old-fashioned ringing of the leg is not a cruel way of doing this. What I myself have seen is that some foreign ornithological bodies ring wild geese in Iceland and Greenland—no British people are involved in this, I am glad to say—with plastic slip bands round their neck or breast. These slip bands slip at the knot and can almost suffocate a bird and make it unable to eat. This is a most unfortunate practice and should be stopped. I wish this were done by a code of behaviour to be followed by all nations rather than that it should only be done through legislation in this country which other Governments might not be prepared to take up. It would be a safer approach to do it internationally.

In regard to cannon nets and poisoning or stupefying bait, which are dealt with in Clause 5, I must say that I certainly dislike cannon nets, and it is here proposed to allow them to be used under licence. Personally I would not have them at all, for this is not a very useful way of catching birds. As to stupefying bait, I do not like the practice of putting out poisoned bait for birds, but I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture have been looking into the whole question and have carried out experiments in the last year or so. So far as I know, the report of their experimental work has not yet come to light. I should have thought that, before finally legislating on this matter, it would be as well to see what that report says. I understand that the amending Bill which we are discussing is the result of certain recommendations of the Home Office Committee. Some of the recommenda- tions are contained in this Bill, but not all of them. For instance, I think I am right in saying that there was a recommendation that falcon training for certain birds in certain areas should be allowed; but I see nothing about that in this Bill.

In regard to Clause 6, and the provisions with regard to special protection in severe weather, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that this matter was still subject to discussion and that the Government were prepared to hear the views of the various bodies on it. I am not qualified to represent any particular body, but, speaking personally, I feel sure that sportsmen as a whole would respond to a general call that unfair shooting in severe weather should, where possible, be prohibited. It is much better to do it by a general appeal through radio announcements, as has occurred once or twice during the last couple of years, rather than to put it forward to two or three different committees and then issue an order, which may be out of date because the countryside thaws before the order comes into being. I think that is worthy of further consideration. Furthermore, in this respect we could show an example on a voluntary basis to foreign countries in seeing fair play to our birds in cold weather. Some two years ago, as we all know, there was a tremendous mortality among our birds, though they are now beginning to recover from it.

I do not quarrel with Clause 7, dealing with the extension of licences, but its provisions seem to be a little complicated and cumbersome. I must admit that, having looked through the Schedule, I cannot quite see which particular bird it is aimed at. I thought that it might have been that lovely bird the bullfinch, but I cannot see from the Schedule that that is the case. However much we like the bullfinch, it must be admitted that he does a lot of damage to fruit, particularly in the South-East of England. I will not attempt to follow other noble Lords in their remarks on Clause 8. I hope that the new reading of the law in regard to gannets will not affect too much the men of Ness who, I would say, are traditional Morrisons. It is very important that an amending Act must not make things more complicated, and that it should make the matter clearer. I hope that any points made on this Bill, either now or at a later stage, will clarify rather than complicate its provisions.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, first on his speech and its content, but secondly on the good fortune of being able to speak at a time when we can be controversial without being political. Although I agree with almost all he has said, there are some things on which I differ. I can assure him that, having carried my constituency under my hat since I came of age, he will have no trouble with his, I hope, from now onwards. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for introducing the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, paid tribute to Lord Hurcomb for his work on nature conservation. All of us were pleased indeed when recently he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London for those services.


Hear, hear!


This Bill—although the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, rather suggested otherwise—is very much like previous Protection of Birds Bills, going right back to the first one in 1880, and is drawn up on much the same lines. Indeed, it might have been drawn up at the end of last century. I have a feeling that those responsible for it have not been affected, as they should have been, by what we have learned in recent years about birds and other animals. Other Acts were necessary because of the ruthless over-collection of birds' skins and birds' eggs for which ornithologists were ready, as indeed some still are, to pay very large sums. The rarer the bird, the higher the price paid and the more temptation offered to the illegal collector. The result was that many birds which used to breed in this country became exceedingly rare, and legislation had to be introduced and has still to be kept in operation to prevent that sort of action. In so far as the Bill extends the 1954 Act in this respect, I welcome it.

Modern ways in which men seem to kill the things they like, like bird photography and bird ringing, are dealt with in Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, which provisions I welcome wholeheartedly. I was a little disturbed when Lord Hurcomb said that this would not inter- fere unduly with bird photographers. It is probably true to say that bird photographers do as much damage to nesting birds as do professional collectors. I was rather hoping that Clause 3 would be used to keep bird photographers in order, just as we tried to keep egg collectors in order under the First Schedule to the old Act.

The enormous increase in bird ringers is another danger to all species. We have read many reports of birds being killed or seriously damaged in nets or by rings, and although the voluntary code laid down by ringers in this country is admirable, not everybody obeys it. The best ringers, like the best surgeons, would admit that they sometimes have disasters. Personally, I have been particularly shocked when I have read reports of migrants being chivvied and chased about, from Heligoland traps to mist nets, when they have newly arrived from overseas. They are then shocked still more by being captured, handled and ringed, and I hope that Clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill will do something to control that sort of activity.

May I refer to the protection of rare birds and their nests? These in general are rare because they are birds which are nesting at the extreme limit of their breeding range, or because, like the larger hawks, they have been so persecuted that they have become few in numbers. Birds of that sort and their eggs, I agree, must be carefully protected in every way that we can, and if that is done they ought to increase in numbers. That was the principle which lay behind all the earlier Acts, and our fathers and grandfathers applied it to all birds. It seemed pretty obvious to them. They had just seen the Malthusian increase in the population of this country which took place with a falling death rate, when the human population had doubled in less than a century, and it seemed to them that if you reduced the death rate of birds in any way they would increase accordingly. Egg collecting and killing of birds for skinning became dirty words, an obsession which I think, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, and others, still obtains.

The law now seems to me more a matter of ethics, in many ways, than a matter of conservation. What our parents and grandparents did not realise, and what I am bound to confess it appears to me that a great many of the protagonists of this Bill and of other Bills do not realise, is that the limiting factor for the vast majority of our birds is not protection but food supplies during the winter, particularly in climates like ours. Your Lordships will see it every year in your gardens. The population builds up during the summer, when the young birds appear and when the food is at its peak, but there is a tremendous mortality in the winter, and by this time next year there will be more or less the same population.

So far as game birds are concerned—grouse, partridge and the like—what your Lordships who shoot do is to cull the surplus population which would die in any case. If you fail to do it, and leave too large a population, disaster can result. Tests by the Ministry of Agriculture have recently shown that all our attempts to reduce the pigeon population by shooting are of no avail, because if we refrain from killing any pigeons at all the build-up in population at the end of the summer will be such that they will consume practically all the available food during the early part of the winter, and die like flies during the rest of it. That is an exaggerated picture, but I think it is true that a sensible cull increases the number of the population of any wild animal; and I believe that the minor cull which is inflicted by birds'-nesting probably does more good to the birds themselves than protectionists know.

Most of this Bill is designed to control the activities of ornithologists, in so far as those have a harmful effect on birds, and as such I welcome it. But, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I am disturbed by Clause 1. In this country the vast majority of the people live in towns, and there is a danger in legislating by townsmen who do not know the outlook of country people and country habits, and the dangers of that are obvious. Most amateur and professional ornithologists, and, indeed, amateur and professional biologists, probably know country birds and the countryside exceedingly well, and love it, but of the habits and behaviour of country people I think most of them are remarkably ignorant.

Clause 1 would make it illegal for any small boy to take the eggs of a blackbird or a water hen. The maximum fine is £5 for each egg—say £20 for a blackbird's nest and £40 for a water hen's nest—and a little boy is made a criminal. I have no doubt that many of your Lordships who were brought up in the country, as I was, were birds'-nesters when you were young; and, indeed, it was birds'-nesting which turned most of us into naturalists. I should think, with respect, that the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, in the days when he was a boy, probably indulged in birds'-nesting or butterfly collecting or picking flowers or something of that sort, all of which are now frowned on by conservationists because they do not know the habits of country people.

As I have said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, himself admitted, the effect of birds'-nesting to-day—and, indeed, I should have thought, the effect of the birds'-nesting which was carried out by all of us when we were young, which was very much more than young things do to-day—is absolutely negligible on the population of the birds concerned; but, fortunately, the chances of being caught are almost equally negligible. Nobody in a country area is going to inform against the children of his friends for doing something which every countryman looks upon as being a normal thing to be done by a country boy; and the police have very much better things to do than that. So, in effect, what we are getting now is a law which the protagonists themselves admit is unnecessary, and which we know is almost unenforceable, which is the classical description of a really bad law.

It is true that after the bad winter of 1962–63 the then Home Secretary was advised to make an Order applying protection to all these common birds. In fact, at the time it was a standing joke among most naturalists in this country that the Home Secretary had been bluffed by a number of people to make this Order which would have very little effect on the birds themselves. Most certainly, it could not have been kept on for more than a year, or two years at the most, with any justification of scientific necessity. We can laugh at the Minister's being advised to make a silly Order, but it is a much more serious thing when Parliament is asked to pass a silly law when it is pleaded that we should do so in order that this country may sign what is obviously a silly Convention. That seems to me to be stretching our intelligence too far.

The noble Lord referred to the plover's eggs, and I would entirely agree with him that in my country, which is an arable country, at any rate, no plover's egg survives if it is laid before the second week in April. In the old days, the man leading the roller would lead it in a wide sweep around the plover's nest when he found it, but now, with a gang of rollers or a gang of harrows stretching behind him for 25 to 30 feet, he cannot possibly do it, and they are all destroyed. I hope that we shall pass this Bill; I think it is a useful Bill; but I am disturbed by the sort of provision to which I have referred, which takes no account of the thoughts of country people and which does not really deal with the matter on a truly scientific basis. I hope we shall be able to deal with those aspects of it in Committee. But the rest of the clauses I wholeheartedly welcome, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for introducing this Bill. If, in Committee, we can amend it until the good clauses are left, I hope the Government will see fit to give time in another place so that we can see it law during this Session.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, the only quarrel (though I cannot really call it a quarrel) that I have with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, is over the fact that this Bill is, rather more than I should have liked, legislation by reference. And in view of the (I fear) possibly unlikely event of my living long enough to see the introduction of the next amending Bill, in another ten years' time, I would suggest to any of your Lordships young enough to be likely to be here that it might be a good thing if all the existing Acts were swept away and were replaced with one new Act which would not include this legislation by reference. As more than one speaker has said to-day, it is difficult enough for the ordinary person to interpret an Act of Parliament: it is almost impossible for him to do so if an amending Act simply refers back to an earlier one, of which he probably does not possess a copy.

It is very much to be hoped that your Lordships will give this Bill an enthusiastic and unopposed Second Reading; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, will have realised—and as, in fact, he knew before he started to speak—this Bill, commendable as it is, is, in various and varying ways, to almost all Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in it, rather the proverbial curate's egg; that is to say, parts of it are excellent, and other parts are unpalatable. For myself, I am glad to be able to assure the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that I find most of it distinctly savoury; and those portions of the egg of which I do not entirely approve, I think can be altered to suit my taste by the judicious application of pepper and salt in the form of Amendments.

My Lords, in the case of all except two clauses I propose to go through the Bill in a general way, as the principle of the Bill is agreed and the consideration of the details is a matter for Committee and not for Second Reading. I find myself in some difficulty over Clause 1 in the way referred to by several of your Lordships in that it makes the taking of a thrush's egg an offence. I agree that, to a considerable extent, this portion of the Bill, if approved, will be unworkable. On the other hand, the present position cannot be said to be in any way satisfactory, as it throws an impossible burden upon the police, who cannot be expected to be connoisseurs of the differences between various eggs—which, once removed from their nests, would often puzzle skilled ornithologists. On the whole, therefore, although, as I say, Clause 1 is going to produce many anomalies, feel that it is probably justified.

However, I feel I must join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, when he asserts that your Lordships' House does not know better than the lapwing when that bird should lay its eggs; because I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that the great majority of the early nests do come to an untimely end through one cause or another. It may be through the act of man, but very often it is through the act of Nature. Even in those fields which have been tilled, and in which the plovers lay their eggs with no chance of their being destroyed by agricultural action, the eggs, showing up clearly in the bare ground, are an too often taken by predators of one kind or another—usually crows. I have myself often found young peewits dead as a result of inclement weather—of which, I may say, we have been having very much in Scotland in the past few days, and which I fear, must have done considerable damage to bird life. The mallard, the common wild duck, for instance, would be well advised to make its nest some weeks later than it usually does. All your Lordships who are country bred will know the holocaust that takes place on country commons in the spring when, just as scores of young mallard appear, there is a touch of frost and the outlets to these ponds are choked with pathetic little fluffy bodies. I may say that, in deprecating this proposed alteration in regard to lapwings' eggs, I speak myself without any prejudice, as I do not like plovers' eggs and do not eat them.

I hope also that the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, will be able to clear up this question of whether, at the present time, it is or is not legal to take the eggs of the black-headed gull. Certainly there is no justification for its not being legal; and if the taking of these eggs were made illegal, it would mean having a law which would be universally broken; and that is always a bad thing. Once more, I speak without personal feeling, as I do not eat them and have never sold any.

Then, my Lords, we come to Clause 2, which prohibits the sale of dead wild geese. About this matter, which was contained in my Bill which your Lordships were kind enough to pass through your House, but which, unfortunately, owing to lack of Parliamentary time in another place, got no further, I am naturally highly enthusiastic. The only criticisms of this proposal come from certain agricultural quarters and I venture to suggest that the complaints from those quarters are worthy only of being disregarded; because there is nothing whatever in this clause, any more than there was in my Bill, which prevents any farmer from shooting as many geese as he likes in the protection of his crops. As a matter of fact, the shooting of geese is not a very good way of keeping them off crops and any farmer who wants to preserve his crops can do it fairly easily, as a rule, by putting up a number of rather garish hides, or empty barrels painted white, which the geese will always give a very wide berth.

Frankly, I have no sympathy whatever with the farmer who wishes to shoot large numbers of geese for the purpose of making a profit; and, from the point of view of protecting his crops, if he just shoots enough for himself to eat, or to give some to his farm workers or friends, he will do as much good as he would if he were massacring a large number and subsequently selling them. During that grim winter of 1962–63, there was a farmer in West Perthshire who had stacks in his stackyard, and those stacks attracted a large number of semi-starving geese. The farmer improved the situation by pulling the stacks a bit apart, and then making a hide of hales of straw from which, I regret to say, he massacred, and subsequently sold, some 400 semi-starving geese. It may be that he did not get very much for them but he got enough to make it, from his perverted point of view, well worth while. It is acts like that that we want to stop.

I may say that the Wildfowlers' Association, to which I shall allude later, are wholeheartedly in favour of this provision. Even those wildfowlers who are of humble means, and who could make quite a bit of money by selling the geese they shoot, are in favour of it. Therefore, I hope that this clause will be accepted.

Next we come to Clause 3, which I think should also meet with general acceptance. There is no doubt that a great deal of harm is done by disturbing birds on their nests. The bird itself may be driven to desert and in many cases, particularly with warblers, even the half-fledged young will leave the nest in terror when a person comes unexpectedly too close to it. The result is that even if the intruder, well-intentioned, tries to pick up the fledglings and put them back he is often unable to find them and they are left to perish miserably. Bird photographers are, of course, excellent people; but some of them are totally inconsiderate in what they do. So long as they get satisfactory photographs, they do not mind what is the subsequent fate of the nest or the nestlings. After all, the word "wilful" is the important thing; and this provision would not affect the person who stumbles by chance on a nest, as all of us must have done, and causes the adult bird to desert or the young to leave the nest prematurely.

In respect of Clause 4, there is no reason why the ringing of birds, if properly done, should produce any suffering whatever. In the many thousands of birds that I have ringed (and the total runs into five figures) only once did I have a fatality, and that was when a blackbird died of heart failure in my hands. I agree that injury can be caused if the ringer is careless enough either to fit the ring too tightly over the leg or to use an unsuitable-sized ring. Furthermore, a careless person may overlook the fact that, while the legs of birds like the woodcock and the plover (which leave the nest as soon as they are hatched, or shortly afterwards), are almost the thickness of the adult legs when hatched, so that putting on a ring immediately on hatching does not do any harm, in the case of nidiconous birds, those which, like the thrush, need twelve to fourteen days before they leave the nest, their spindly legs are for some days after hatching so thin that the ring, even if properly put on, will fall off. The result is that the only way a ring can be made to stay on is by overlapping the ring; and this means that the bird will suffer pain, inconvenience and, possibly, death as a result. There is, therefore, justification for the control of rings, although I should be very sorry to see any control that would seriously interfere with a branch of bird study which has greatly increased human knowledge.

In regard to Clause 5, I think it is wholly admirable. One does not want poisonous substances to be used, and the use of cannon nets and mist nets can be very harmful, indeed, in the hands of an unskilled or careless person. There used in the past to be other ways of taking birds—ways which are not covered by this Bill and which, in practice, would still remain legal; but as they are now, fortunately, completely lost I certainly do not intend to tell your Lordships what they are, because I do not want anyone to know of them and to revive them.

Clause 6 is one about which I am extremely enthusiastic. If there is to be a Committee stage I shall bring forward certain Amendments to this clause. If I do so, let the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, be assured that it will be for the purpose only of making the provisions of this clause more speedy and more effective. It is an excellent proposal. In the past there has been the closest co-operation between the Wildfowlers' Association, of which I have the honour to be President, the Wild Fowl Trust and the Nature Conservancy. I hope that any Committee that is to be set up will include representatives of these three bodies. The Nature Conservancy, of which I shall say more in a moment, is a statutory body and therefore can be fitly included in an Act of Parliament. That is not the case with the Wild Fowl Trust or the Wildfowlers' Association which, being unofficial bodies, could hardly be more properly included in an Act than could, for example, the National Farmers' Union or the Automobile Association. But the Nature Conservancy can be included and is included; this is a good thing.

Here may I say, as an obiter dictum, which I hope the elasticity of the Rules of your Lordships' House will permit, that the Nature Conservancy is supposed to become only a Sub-Committee now of a larger and more amorphous body. Whatever happens, I hope that nothing will be done by this or any subsequent Government to impair the position of the Nature Conservancy, or in any way to alter its constitution or its powers. The Nature Conservancy, under the brilliant leadership of Max Nicholson, whom I have known for a generation, has not only done an immense amount for wild life in this country but has also raised very much our prestige regarding conservation all over the world. It would be tragic if the influence or power of the Nature Conservancy were to be harmfully affected by any proposed changes.

The Wildfowlers' Association, during the hard winter of 1962–63, recommended its members to refrain from shooting wild fowl in any areas where the birds were obviously suffering from the effects of the severe weather. The Wildfowlers' Association is more fitted to carry the task of obtaining information than any other body, because within a few hours it can communicate with about two hundred clubs all over the country. Therefore, it can get the most up-to-date information from every area. The provision that the prohibition of shooting or taking by other means can be not only for the whole of Great Britain but for any specified area, is excellent. It would be obviously absurd to have, say, the Solway or South-West England under a prohibition order when it was enjoying quite mild winter weather, while everywhere from the Wash northwards might be suffering Arctic conditions which made any attempt to shoot wild fowl unjustifiable.

I think that Clause 7 is justified. It says: … for the purpose of preventing serious damage to crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries …". It does not allude in any way to farm-stock or animals. That is an omission which I think may well be looked into, for although our birds of prey and interesting animals such as the pinemartin and polecat are unfortunately at very low ebb, conditions may well occur in which they will do damage to animals, and in specific instances the destruction of one or more predators may be justified. With an application of that sort, it is wholly excellent.

I do not propose to say anything in regard to Clause 8 because I do not know the islands in question. But it is clear, despite the fact that these gannets have been taken for food for centuries past, that on the whole the gannet population has tended to increase over the last century, which shows that they have been more or less farmed but that the inroads made upon them have not had any harmful effect upon the stocks. Clause 9 is a most excellent provision, because I know from personal experience that it was years before many councils and many police forces knew what the provisions of the 1954 Act did. One would find that otherwise quite well-informed police did not know that the shooting of ducks in August had become illegal. The fact that local authorities of all kinds are to be enabled to take steps to make the provisions of this Bill generally known is wholly advantageous. In short, I welcome this Bill very much and, as I said to my noble friend Lord Hurcomb, any suggestions that are put forward on Committee stage will be solely for the purpose of making the Bill even better than it is at the present time.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome whole-heartedly this Bill, which has been so ably put forward by my noble friend Lord Hurcomb. A great many noble Lords who are more expert on the subject than I am have said a great deal, so I shall not keep your Lordships very long. But before I go any further I would take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, on what I thought was an excellent maiden speech. Now that he has joined your Lordships' House, I hope he feels it is a pleasure to be able to speak his own opinions instead of those of his constituents.

Birds, possibly more than any other wild animals, suffer from innumerable enemies, natural and unnatural. The small birds are preyed upon by the larger ones and by the less pleasant of our animal friends, such as the stoat and weasel. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is doing valuable work in eliminating from those enemies man who up to now has been their chief foe. As was said by my noble friend Lord Hurcomb, education is a great force in making children see that it is not desirable to destroy wild life which is doing on harm whatsoever.

This brings me to Clause 1, which deals with the protection of eggs. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook spoke of birds'-nesting as an enjoyable sport of his youth. Well, it was not one of mine, possibly because I was not in a place which was suitable for it. None the less, I think it is high time that we taught the young people growing up to-day that it is not desirable. The study of nature is highly desirable, but the destruction of nature in the course of it is anything but desirable. Although, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said, possibly the control of birds'-nesting is entirely unenforceable, yet I think that certain legislation which is unenforceable is at the same time desirable. For instance, nobody can say that the thirty m.p.h. speed limit is enforceable, but it is highly desirable. I do not think that any noble Lord would want it removed. In the same way, I feel that the mere fact that robbing a birds'-nest of its eggs was illegal would be a slight deterrent. The more farseeing parents will tend to dissuade their children from doing it.

There is also the undoubted fact that children cannot tell the difference between the eggs of a very common species and the eggs of a very rare one. I dare say that it would not do a great deal of harm if half-a-dozen chaffinch nests in a garden were robbed every year, because the chaffinch is an extremely common bird. But the average child would hardly be able to tell the difference between the eggs of a chaffinch and those of a goldcrest, except by size. And if children were knowledgeable enough to know the difference, they would probably be bird lovers and would not rob the nest.

We come to another serious enemy of eggs—namely the professional egg collector. He still exists. He is still after rare eggs, which he can sell at an enormous price, and he will go to any length to invade bird sanctuaries, posing as a bird lover and bird watcher, as I have been told by wardens of bird sanctuaries in Norfolk. After seeing where the nest is, he will try to get in at dead of night to rob it. There is no doubt that this sort of thing is still going on. There was a notable case when the avocets first started nesting in England.

I come to the question of plovers' eggs, which has been debated pretty fully. I confess that I am not very knowledgeable about this, but no doubt it is true—an enormous number of plovers' nests must be destroyed every year in the course of agriculture. A man sitting on the seat of a tractor cannot see a plover's nest because it is not a very noticeable structure, being a mere scrape in the ground; and as a result an enormous amount of nests must be destroyed. To my mind, that makes it all the more desirable to preserve those which remain because, as my noble friend Lord Hurcomb said, the plover is an extremely helpful bird to the agriculturist and also an extremely pleasant one to the bird lover. I was sorry to hear what both my noble friends, Lord Cranbrook and Lord Mansfield, had to say about bird photographers. I had always imagined that they were a fairly innocent race.


Some of them are.


I think the more expert ones are. But probably more control should be enforced upon them. The disturbance of nesting birds, dealt with in Clause 3, is an important matter, because not everybody realises that while some species will remain in the nest or return to it after having been disturbed, others will desert the nest for good and all and leave their nestlings to starve. I think this Bill will be most useful in preserving many species from total extinction. It is a very desirable thing to preserve wild life. For one thing, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, it is dangerous to upset the balance of nature by destroying certain species. One has only to look back to the time of myxomatosis to realise the extraordinary and quite unexpected reactions that arose from the disappearance of the rabbits.

That brings me to Clause 5 and the use of poisonous substances. The one thing that has not been mentioned this evening is the use of toxic sprays for agricultural purposes. This subject has been brought forward in your Lordships' House at intervals over the last five years, and each time the Government have said: "We realise that this is a serious problem and we will look into it", but that is as far as it has gone. One can go on looking into something for hundreds of years, but one gets nowhere until something is done. I sincerely hope that this Government will bring forward some legislation to control the use of these toxic sprays. They not only kill the birds which are seed eating and which the farmers mistakenly think destroy their crops, but also destroy a number of other birds which are insectivorous, because they kill the insect upon which those birds feed. Here, again, is an instance of the unforeseen reactions to the use of any artificial method.

On the question of wild geese, I am afraid I do not altogether agree with my noble friend, Lord Margadale, who felt that they must be kept down in numbers. The trouble is that when you start keeping down geese, all species of which flock together, you may be destroying a large number of common geese but you may also destroy some rare species. Here I think my noble friend Lord Mansfield was right in his suggestion.


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend, I do not think that is a serious consideration, because it is unusual for geese of different species to fly in flocks.


My Lords, may I say that I did not mean to suggest that all geese ought to be shot, but that where they are shot because of eating a new grassland it seems a pity that they should not be used as something to eat.


I quite agree. On the other hand, how will one control it? I think it has to be done by licence, or something like that. I was rather surprised to hear the answer of my noble friend Lord Mansfield, because I remember distinctly the warden of the Sanctuary at Blakeney in Norfolk taking us round and showing us a mixture of all kinds of geese, all clustered together on the estuary. Whether he was showing us things that were not there, I cannot say.

I am rather sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, took what I thought was a little bit of a laissez aller attitude towards the Bill. As seems to be so often the case, he did not appear to know whether he was in favour of the Bill or against it. However, I think he came down in favour of the Bill, and I sincerely hope that the Government will support it and that it will eventually become law.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I believe the French say that when an Englishman sees a bird he goes and gets a gun and shoots it. Of course, that is complete nonsense, because in our country we have a far greater wealth of birds than they have in France or, I would say, anywhere on the Continent. I quite agree with the intentions behind the Bill, and the general principle is satisfactory: of course, we must protect our birds. But, after reading this Bill through carefully, as I have two or three times, I feel that it is not in all its clauses drafted at all well. If the Bill were to become law as at present drafted, it would in respect of many of the clauses be quite impossible for the police and others responsible for the enforcement of the law to carry it out. If anything, I would say that the Bill tries to over-legislate and is in danger of turning us all into criminals.

I rather object to Clause 1, in so far as it may concern fruit farmers. If we have a plague of bullfinches or other small birds, surely it is far more humane to allow their eggs to be taken than to destroy them by catching them in cages, or by some other method, and then killing them. I well see the point that if you prevent the taking of all eggs it is easier in some ways since many people cannot always differentiate between eggs. I feel that the Home Secretary must keep the power to order, if required, that eggs can be destroyed if necessary.

May I speak briefly on the question of the lapwing? I completely agree with my noble friends Lord Margadale and Lord Cranbrook, that the early clutches of the bird are always destroyed through farming; and even if they survive on land that is not farmed, the weather usually kills the young birds. In that case it is getting fairly late, and the hen will not rear another clutch. Therefore, if you take the first clutch you are not really doing any harm. And, of course, they are extremely pleasant to eat, as we all know—but that is beside the point. I believe that the law, as it is, is perfectly satisfactory regarding the lapwing.

May I now turn to what I consider to be the worst clause in the Bill, which is Clause 3? I am no lawyer, but I do not see how it can work. As I read it, one has to refer to the original Act of 1954 where the various Schedules of birds are set out. If a man disturbs a bird protected under the First Schedule to the 1954 Act on her nest, or, as the Bill says, "near her nest or unflown young", at the same time he could disturb a bird under other Schedules, because, of course, there are common wild fowl and rare wild fowl, and you often find them nesting on the same ground. Obviously, if you are going to charge a man with having disturbed a Garganey or a long-tailed duck under the First Schedule, he may also have disturbed a common duck, like a teal, and he can easily say that he meant to disturb only the teal. Even if, under the First Schedule, he disturbs only the long-tailed duck, how are you going to prove that it is wilful? I think it will be extremely difficult to prove, and I cannot see how this clause can work.

I now come to Clause 4. I think it would probably be easier to say that it will be an offence to ring or mark birds in such a manner as to cause cruelty. I think this clause goes rather far in prohibiting any ringing or marking except by licence from the Nature Conservancy.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount, but the clause does not prohibit. It requires it to be done only under licence, and, therefore, by properly qualified and trained persons.


That was just what I was saying, if the noble Lord will allow me. I was saying that I do not think it is necessary in all cases to have to ask the Nature Conservancy. As it is, we are plagued in this country with licences and forms, and at the rate we are going we shall soon have to apply for a licence to breathe. Obviously it would be far easier to make it an offence to ring or mark in any way which may cause cruelty.

I am also not quite happy about Clause 5. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to the use of electrical devices to frighten birds, which under this clause will be an offence. If you make it an offence to use an electrical device to frighten birds, what about the other devices? What about the alarm guns we have in orchards? Why only electrical devices? I would say that the drafting here is rather bad. I agree with the provisions regarding poisons and stupefying bait. I understand, as my noble friend Lord Margadale said, that the Ministry of Agriculture is at the moment experimenting on certain substances, and I should have thought it was rather premature to legislate on this question.

Clause 6 contains an excellent idea on the question of severe weather, when the Home Secretary will be able to protect our wild fowl by making an Order prohibiting the shooting of them in certain areas for fourteen days. It is an absolutely excellent idea. But the point is whether it will be possible to put it into effect, because under the clause the Home Secretary has to ask the opinion of three bodies. Will he be able to ask the opinion of those three bodies and receive an answer in sufficient time? With due respect to the Civil Service and various official bodies, by the time he has received his replies and his Order goes out to all the affected parties, the fourteen days will have expired. Our climate changes very quickly, as we well know, and I should have thought that that provision was rather hard to put into practice. But I am extremely enamoured of the idea, and I hope it can be put into practice, although I rather doubt it.

I will not say anything more on the Bill. I presume that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading, which I think it should have; but it will have to be carefully looked at in Committee. As I have said, I am afraid that a great many of the clauses have been badly drafted. Before I close, I should like to pay tribute to the great work that the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has done in the preservation of wild life, and bird life in particular. I sincerely hope that he does not take any remarks about drafting as any reflection on his efforts. But I feel that on Committee stage I, and probably other noble Lords, will put down certain Amendments. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Margadale on his maiden speech in this House. It was excellent that he should make it on this Bill, because, of course, he was very active in the passage of the original Act in 1954 in another place. I think that we are most fortunate to have him with us in this House with his great Parliamentary experience. I like the idea and intention behind the Bill, but, as I say, T think it will have to be altered a little.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I also add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Margadale, and add my plea to his, asnd to those of a number of other noble Lords, that these bird protection regulations should be simplified? It is extremely complicated even for those who have tried to go into the matter. Much as we agree with many clauses in this Bill, it does add complications. Might T also thank the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, because I was surprised to find myself in almost complete agreement with everything he said. Your Lordships will be happy to know that consequently this reduces what I have to say.

If I may quickly run through the various clauses, I am a little confused by Clause 1, because various noble Lords have said that this is going to make criminals of anyone who takes eggs; but so far as I can see, this only removes the powers of the Secretary of State and it does not affect eggs in the Schedule. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, told us that the Secretaries of State have made very few Orders under this provision, so it would affect very few eggs.


My Lords, one Order was made, which was revoked in 1963, so at the moment no Order is in existence. All this clause does is to remove the power of the Secretary of State to make such Orders. It does not affect the Schedules in the principal Act.


I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. Consequently, I wonder whether this is a wise clause. Is it not better to have this safeguard, which is so rarely used, but which can be used if needed? Unfortunately, the commercial dealing in particularly rare birds and eggs is by no means at an end. T was recently talking to some police in Inverness about this, one of whom is a very keen bird man himself. We seem to suffer mainly from people coming from South of the Border and taking eggs. If we are to stop this, it means that we must have power to search vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that this would interfere with the liberties of the subject, but I think I am right in saying that we already have this power in Scotland under the Deer Act. You may not have anything similar in England, but we have perhaps more stringent laws, and indeed in the Highlands I believe we are going to have very much more stringent ones under a new Bill in another place.


My Lords, if I may intervene again, the reference was to police power to search the person—to search in his pockets, not vehicles.


I should have thought that both should be searched. It is very difficult to catch a person in the act, because obviously if there is someone watching he does not take them. You have to watch with a spy-glass and you may have to wait a very long time, and it would be very difficult to prove. It is very much easier if people are caught with the article on them.

With regard to lapwing eggs, I am sorry to return to this, but it seems we are all agreed that anything we can do to protect these birds and encourage their numbers should be done. The only point on which we seem to disagree is how this should be done, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, will look at this again. It does seem from what so many noble Lords have said that there is a very much greater chance of the second clutch surviving than the first. In the maiden speech we were told that on May 3 there were some very bedraggled looking chicks, but since then, last Friday we had four inches of snow in Edinburgh, and how any plover survived that I do not know. I doubt whether any did. I do hope there will be a good second hatching.

In this clause regarding eggs I wonder whether such eggs as partridge, capper and blackgame eggs are protected. I am a little worried about this because if we are breaking the law by dealing with partridge eggs, partridge may become very rare birds. It is artificial rearing which has kept them going in many areas at the present time. There is considerable demand for capper and blackgame eggs to repopulate other areas, and if we protected them too severely, and those who tried to rear these birds were stopped from doing so, it would be disastrous.

With regard to geese, I am a farmer who suffers from this problem. It is not uncommon in the spring to find two or three thousands geese on my fields. As the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said, shooting is not the only way of keeping them out. Barrels are a very effective method, but like all scaring things you have got to change your scarer periodically because they very soon get used to what you put up. If it is barrels, you want to change the colour; but shooting is by no means necessary. If one does shoot, there is absolutely no reason why the bird should be sold. Commercialisation is not creeping in, but unfortunately has already taken place quite substantially in various parts of Scotland, and any true sportsman would not desire this. Indeed, these massacres of geese in the country are reducing the numbers, and therefore reducing the overall sport for everyone else. Therefore, I would strongly advocate that this clause on geese is enforced.

Clause 3 I cannot say is a good clause, but the intention is good. What I fear is that it is not legally enforceable. I do hope this will be very carefully looked at, because I feel that if it can be enforced it is a very good clause. There is, however, considerable doubt as to how one can actually enforce it. So far as the ringing of the birds is concerned, the clause is excellent because there is much unofficial ringing. I have seen a hen harrier which had three rings on one leg and one on the other. How the wretched bird is expected to survive in that sort of condition I do not know, and it seems to me quite unnecessary. If anyone found a ring on a bird and wished further to identify it, he could change the ring, or at least not add to it considerably in this manner. If there are to be licences, and I hope there are, I hope it will be possible to have a list available to the general public as to who may and who may not ring birds. That is not in the Bill, but I hope something to this effect will be added. I have had the misfortune of capturing in cage traps hooded crows which have been ringed apparently in the same area. I strongly suspect they have been let out of my cage traps on previous occasions and I have caught them two or three weeks later and I do not know the culprit. This sort of ridiculous ringing of birds ought to be stopped, and I hope that some sort of provision to this effect will be added to the Bill.

Turning to Clause 5 and the provision regarding electrical devices, I wonder whether we are going to make the electricity authorities the criminals, because one of the biggest killers of birds anywhere is our electrical overhead lines; and if electrical devices are referred to in the Bill in this manner, I wonder how the law will stand. I hope that Clause 6 will be enforced and not made voluntary. During the hard winter of two years ago, although there may have been appeals there was considerable shooting around our shores. It is not sporting, and I am sure that all good sportsmen would wish that any protection that can be given in those conditions should be given. My fear is that by the time this Committee is consulted it will be too late, and I should like to see the Secretary of State given complete power, which I have no doubt he would use with discretion, to schedule any specific area as a protected area until such time as the weather lets up. In regard to Clause 7, we have already asked that farm animals should be added to the list of crops, fruit and timber. I should like to ask that game should also be added to the chickens and so on which were mentioned previously.

I turn to Clause 8. I come from the North, and perhaps I know a little more about this subject than some other noble Lords. The matter has been fairly well described. Among other things which these Men of Ness traditionally have done for many years, is to take grey seals. When these were protected they felt quite sorely about it, and then they were allowed to take their gannets. They are now being given an extended period. I only hope that this is not being done as a quid pro quo for the taking of grey seals, which, of course, the Orcadians are now allowed to take in certain numbers, under licence. I think the Men of Ness would like to do the same. I hope that we are not giving them the one thing and hoping that as a result they will not take the other.

So far as Clause 9 is concerned, our own local authority has expressed concern. As far as this is voluntary, I think it is all right—so long as there is no obligation placed upon the local authorities to do specific things and thereby incur further expenditure and add to our already rising rates. Finally, may I just mention Lord Cranbrook's novel suggestion for the reduction of pigeons—that we should allow them to multiply to such an extent that they eat all their food. I fear that they would eat us out of house and home before they killed themselves.


My Lords, I should like to say that it is not my suggestion. I understand that it is going to be a recommendation of the Ministry.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to those of your Lordships who have expressed views on the various clauses of the Bill. I will consider carefully all that they have said. I have already expressed my obligation to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, not only for what he has done and the assistance he has given, and thank him for what he said this afternoon. I would refer only to one point in his speech, and that is this vexed question of right of search.

As I said earlier, I should be content to see this extended area applied only to offences in connection with the taking of eggs, where, as more than one of your Lordships have said, it is not possible, under the existing law, to deal easily with these persistent egg stealers. The relevant section of the principal Act says that … a constable may, without warrant, stop and search any person found committing an offence. The trouble arises from the words "found committing", because, as the noble Lord who has just spoken pointed out, nobody takes a protected bird's egg if there is someone on the spot likely to find him doing it. What he does is to go out at night, or quite early in the morning; and perhaps he has a car some miles away on the road. That is the kind of action which does not touch the ordinary subject at all. Millions and millions of people would never be brought within any risk of being searched on this ground. Recognising, as a great many people do, all the difficulties of any general extension of this power, I feel that it needs to be looked at again in this particular connection.

May I also venture to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Margadale, on his maiden speech in this House, partly because I recall with pleasure our old and long association in the Nature Conservancy, and because I know the great interest he has always shown, and the practical help he has given, in the conservation of wildfowl. But there is another reason why I listened to him with exceptional pleasure: that he has had exactly the same happy idea about the subject upon which to make his maiden speech as I had fifteen years ago, when I also selected a Motion of the late Lord Templewood about the protection of birds as a non-controversial subject on which I felt I might embark without undue trepidation.

As to the merits of what he has just said, I do not propose, at this time of night, to say any more about the lap- wing, though I hope to say something at a later stage of the Bill. On the general question of taking common birds' eggs, I endeavoured to give your Lordships the reasons why I feel that this Bill has a good effect all round. I would agree with what my noble friend Lord Somers said: that what we have to look at is how to get into the heads of the population at large, and the young people in particular, the importance of respecting and protecting wild life.

For my own part, I have always thought, and I think now, that the question of prosecuting some small boy for taking a blackbird's egg can perfectly well be left to the common sense of the police; and if common sense failed in that particular it could be safely entrusted to the common sense of the magistrates, and the boy would not be made a criminal. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook spoke as though everybody nowadays was a country-dweller and understood country life, and knew quite well that if he took one thrush's egg out of a nest it might not do much harm. But that is not what is happening.

To-day, of course, there are enormous town populations which surge into the countryside in motor cars and by other means. There are young people, some of them ill-disciplined—for example, in the Midland towns—who make a habit of getting into the country, dragging every nest out of every hedge they can find, and taking every egg. I think the whole situation has altered. No doubt when Lord Cranbrook was young, which is much more recently than when I was young, he collected a few eggs; but we had not then the facilities that we have now for getting to know what the birds, their eggs and their nests are like. There were not the wonderfully illustrated text books. There were not all the admirable lectures and shows on television. Any boy who wants to become a young naturalist now can do so without starting an egg collection.

It seemed to me that Lord Cranbrook proved too much. He seemed to be arguing that, scientifically or biologically, it is unnecessary to protect eggs at all, because taking eggs has no effect upon the bird population. That is a subject on which I should not propose to argue with him, least of all in your Lordships' House at this time of night. There is a good deal to be said on the subject. He plumped for the theory that it is all a question of the food supply. But that is not the only view about the ultimate factors controlling bird populations, as the noble Earl knows very well. However, that is not a subject to pursue in this House. The arguments against these common birds' eggs orders are that they are not intelligible to the young; that they make the task of the teacher impossible; that they make enforcement by the police difficult, and that they also hold us up to the reproach of other countries whose practices and laws are greatly inferior to our own.

The noble Lord, Lord Margadale, and one or two other speakers said that this Bill complicates the law. In general I do not think that is so. If its provisions were accepted it would in many ways simplify the law. One or two of its clauses are complicated, and I took careful note of what the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard said. My own withers are unwrung because in this matter I have had the assistance of the Home Office draftsman. I would not agree that the Bill is badly drafted. One or two clauses are complicated, for the reason that they are very careful to preserve all the exceptions—I will not say excuses, but all the defences, and so on—provided for in the principal Act. If the Law Commissioners ever find time to consolidate the law relating to the protection of birds, and indeed all the law relating to the conservation of nature, into one clear and simple Act that would be splendid. But I am afraid that that will take rather a long time, and it is not an immediate answer against putting right or strengthening what we can put right or strengthen now. Nevertheless, I will, before the Committee stage, look into all the points which have been raised, and shall perhaps be able to discuss them with some of my noble friends.

I do not think that the difficulty of enforcing Clause 3 in regard to the disturbance of nesting birds is going to be great. I myself know instances, as do your Lordships, where rare birds have been wilfully disturbed by photographers or enthusiastic bird watchers, and they can very well be detected. I agree with the Advisory Committee in saying that they thought a legal prohibition against this practice would in itself go a long way to securing a right code of conduct.

I shall say no more about the treatment of wildfowl in hard winters. I agree entirely with Lord Margadale that sportsmen would respond to a general appeal. But, as I said in other connections, we are not here dealing with real sportsmen but with people who can take out a gun licence, who can get into a motor car, drive 100 or 150 miles down to the coast and blaze away at whatever they can find in whatever condition it may be. Although I am sure that the Wildfowlers' Association would control their members, they cannot control these other people who do the damage.

I have already referred to what my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said. I do not agree that the principal Act or this Bill might have been drawn up at the end of the last century. I agree with him, of course, that the protection of individual species of birds by law is not the only, or indeed the most important, approach to conservation. What is fundamental is the conservation of the habitat. That is realised not only by scientists but also by protectionists. One must back right policies by legal prohibitions and restrictions where they are necessary.

I think the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, dealt sufficiently with the clause which incorporates the Bill which he persuaded your Lordships to pass some three years ago. As regards the black-headed gulls' eggs, he will find the answer in Sections 2 and 6 of the principal Act, which provide that the black-headed gulls' eggs may be taken for human consumption or for poultry food. I do not think that has been interfered with in any way by the revocation of the common birds' eggs orders or by this Bill, but I will certainly verify that before the Committee stage. I have already referred to what Lord Massereene and Ferrard said about the drafting of the Bill, and there are one or two complicated clauses which perhaps might be simplified.

In regard to Clause 4, dealing with ringing, I do not think licensing is going to be vexatious, because it will be done through the main ornithological societies, whose members are in the main responsible and easily identified. A provision merely making it an offence to ring or mark a bird in such a way as to cause cruelty would have been a very difficult kind of provision to enforce successfully. The noble Lord referred also to electrical devices. The only electrical devices which would be touched by this clause are those which are calculated to cause, and so placed as to cause, physical injury to birds. I believe there may be inventions which have that effect, and it is thought that power should be taken to bring them under control. I do not regard this matters as one of vital importance, and if there is any real risk of vexatious interference with agriculture it might well be reconsidered. The same noble Lord also expressed doubt as to the hard-weather clause, but I think that perhaps he has misread the Bill. It does not require the Secretary of State to consult three bodies, but three named individuals who will be representative of competent authorities. That is a very different thing, and it could be made to work with the speed which he rightly says is the very essence of the matter.

I think that I have dealt sufficiently with the points raised in the course of the debate, on the understanding that many of them can be looked at again on Committee stage. I shall be very glad to discuss with noble Lords any points on which they think my proposals are impracticable or could be more clearly expressed. Having said that, I would thank your Lordships again for the generally favourable reception which you have given to the principles of this Bill, and I hope that you will give it an unopposed Second Reading.

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

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