HL Deb 03 August 1966 vol 276 cc1312-6

3.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. In doing so I would not propose to go through the clauses at length at this stage unless any of your Lordships desire more detail, because it is almost identically the same Bill as that which your Lordships were good enough to pass last year, after considerable debate and some amendment. The Bill started afresh in another place and reached its Second Reading unopposed, when its progress was halted by the Dissolution.

The first clause of the Bill withdraws the powers of the Secretaries of State to deprive the eggs of specified wild birds of the protection given them by the principal Act, and while leaving landowners free to take lapwings' eggs up to April 14 makes their commercial exploitation illegal. Clause 2 again incorporates the Bill prohibiting the sale of dead wild geese which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, piloted through your Lordships' House some three years ago. Clause 3 makes it an offence for any unauthorised person wilfully to disturb at their nests the fifty or so rare species specified in the first Schedule, but the discretion of the approving authority has been somewhat widened by a slight amendment so as to include conservation among the scientific purposes for which approval may be given.

Clauses 4 and 5 bring in much needed regulation of growing practices, which include ringing and netting in mist-nets and several other devices, while Clause 6 empowers the Secretaries of State to suspend the shooting of wild fowl for short periods of exceptionally severe weather. These clauses remain unaltered, as do the rest of the clauses of the Bill, with one particular exception to which I must refer. Your Lordships will recall that when the Bill was under discussion in Committee last year my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir moved an Amendment giving powers of search to a constable who had reasonable ground for suspecting that an offence had been committed. This remedied a great weakness in the principal Act, but the Home Office spokesmen were not happy about it, and my noble friend Lord Bowles invited me to discuss the matter further with his Department. This I gladly agreed to do, and indeed I indicated at the time that the importance of the point was greatest in relation to the illegal taking of the eggs of the rare birds specified in the first Schedule.

I am glad to say that as a result of my discussion the present Clause 10 emerged, and I believe that the compromise I then suggested is now acceptable to the Ministers concerned, and I hope it will be so to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir. It will do much to deter offenders and to make enforceable one of the most important provisions of the present law. I am greatly indebted to the noble Lords, Lord Bowles and Lord Stonham, for the assistance which they and their Departments have given to me, and I am grateful to your Lordships for the sympathetic way in which these problems of safeguarding our natural environment are always considered in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

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

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all welcome once again this Bill which is before us. I think we would agree that in the present economic situation into which the Government have got us we cannot really spare the time this afternoon to talk at any great length about lapwings or dead wild geese or black-headed gulls. But we ought just to pause and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, on having got this Bill going again, and keep the rest of our counsel for a later stage another day.


My Lords, while I entirely agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken on the need to keep the proceedings as short as possible, I would suggest that now and in the future when dealing with conservation Bills your Lordships should consider the underlying reasons for their introduction; whether or not, for instance, this Bill and other similar Bills are designed to secure the continuance in this country of rare birds which would otherwise become extinct or even more rare, or whether they are based on emotions and feeling that any interference with any bird per se is such an antisocial act that it should be made a crime. That, I think, is the yardstick which we should apply, and when I apply that yardstick to this Bill I find that most of it is scientifically justified and I would commend it to your Lordships.

However, I myself feel that Clause 1, at any rate, is fairly unjustified scientifically and is entirely based on emotion, and I hope we shall be able to deal with that and various other associated matters in Committee. I believe it important that this point should be made on Second Reading, and I hope your Lordships will excuse me for making it when you are only too anxious to get on with discussion of things other than birds which sit on the opposite side of this House.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for keeping their remarks as short as they have done. I understand this was under an agreement of some kind which was reached. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, could not resist bringing a little Party politics into a completely non-Party matter, a Private Member's Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said, the provisions of the Bill before us to-day are, with one major exception, the same as those your Lordships approved in Lord Hurcomb's former Bill. The only substantial change is in Clause 10, which he mentioned, which has been modified to confine the proposed extension of police powers to suspected offences relating to the eggs of very rare birds.

Your Lordships will recall that at the Report stage of the earlier Bill I said that the Government could not support Clause 10 as amended in Committee because it seemed to give unduly wide powers to the police. I undertook, however, that the Government would discuss the matter with Lord Hurcomb to see if a mutually acceptable solution could be found. The discussions took place as the noble Lord has said, and the new revised Clause 10 provides for search and arrest without warrant where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed against the eggs of specially protected birds. It makes no change, as regards the generality of offences against the Act, in the powers conferred on the police by Section 12(1) of the principal Act to stop and search any person "found committing" an offence against the Act.

The Government fully recognise the special problem of protecting rare species just as they appreciate the general issues that are involved in any suggestion for extending police powers. At this stage I cannot commit the Government in regard to this new clause. We shall be guided by the views expressed by the House in Committee and at other stages later. As regards the principles of the Bill as a whole, the Government's attitude remains one of benevolent neutrality. We shall, of course, be very ready to give the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, any assistance he may require to secure that the Bill's provisions are satisfactory in form and give workable effect to the intentions of the House. In the meantime, the Government support the Second Reading of this Bill.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am obliged for the way in which your Lordships in various parts of the House have received this Bill. I do not think there is any reason why, now or at any future date, any substantial number of minutes should be taken in reviewing or discussing the details of the Bill, which was exhaustively debated last year and has been the subject of a great deal of discussion outside. I am not going to enter into argument with my noble friend Lord Cranbrook about the advisability of protecting all the species of birds which still exist in these Islands. The case is not a scientific one, as he well knows, on this particular point, but it is an attempt to make the law intelligible to those who have to bring up young people, and enforceable by the police who have to see that it is duly observed.

It is quite impossible to go on saying, that while it is right for a small boy to take a skylark's egg he must not take a woodlark's egg, or to expect any constable to know whether one or the other has been taken. As I say, I am not going to take up time on this question now. I have argued it for many hours in other places with my noble friend, and no doubt shall continue to do so. I hope that your Lordships will speed this Bill on its way in its present form and, in the autumn, will put it through its remaining stages with but little loss of time.

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