HL Deb 18 November 1965 vol 270 cc685-7

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what grounds they have rejected the representations made to them that the close season for the shooting of partridges should be extended.]


My Lords, in 1954 the Gamekeepers' Association of the United Kingdom proposed that, in order to arrest a decline in the partridge population, the close season for shooting, which is now from February 1 to August 31, should be extended to include the month of January and the first fortnight in September. In April last the British Field Sports Society urged that the proposed extension should be limited to the month of January. It did not, however, appear to Her Majesty's Government that the proposal commanded support among all the interests involved or that voluntary restrictions on shooting would not suffice to achieve the desired object. Legislation would be required to alter the close season, and I cannot hold out any hope of Government legislation for this purpose.


The noble Lord mentioned "interested parties". Is he aware that the Field Sports Association, the Country Landowners' Association and the Gamekeepers' Association are all in favour of shortening the shooting season for partridges? Then at the end of his reply the noble Lord said that this would require legislation. May I ask him, if a Private Member's Bill were introduced, what attitude the Home Office would take towards it? Would they help with the Bill?


I am aware, of course, that the bodies mentioned by the noble Lord are in favour of extending the close season. I have reason to believe that the partridges also are in favour of this. On the other hand, the Wild Fowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland indicated strong reservations, and the Nature Conservancy reserves its position. This is, therefore, a very controversial matter. With regard to legislation, I cannot commit the Government in advance, but it is likely that the Government would adopt a neutral attitude to this matter, if a Private Member's Bill were introduced. Obviously, in the present congested state of the legislative programme we could not give priority to this subject.


My Lords, may I ask how many partridges are shot by wildfowlers?


My Lords, the noble Lord may ask, but without notice of the question I cannot reply.


My Lords, arising out of the original Question and the replies by the Minister, are Her Majesty's Government aware that this proposed curtailment of the shooting season for partridges is not approved by the Shooting Committee of the British Field Sports Association and by sportsmen generally; and, secondly, that the lamentable reduction in the number of partridges throughout the country cannot be attributed to a long shooting season, but to a succession of bad breeding years and the use of toxic chemicals?


My Lords, what the noble Earl has said confirms me in my view that this is a very controversial matter. In regard to the second part of his question, I entirely agree that the shortage of partridges may be due not so much to over-shooting as to changes in farming methods, the increase of arable land, fewer hedgerows and, as the noble Earl said, the increased use of pesticides.


My Lords, the Minister referred to the partridge population. We also hear from time to time of the pig population. Would it be possible for Her Majesty's Government to give a complete list of the animals they consider people?


My Lords, will my noble friend advise the Government to resist this clamour from the Party opposite for stricter and stricter controls?