§ 2.45 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the ever-increasing devastation to farms, orchards and gardens wrought by pigeons and bullfinches; and whether they have any scientific or other alleviation in view.]
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware of the apparently increasing damage caused to 936 agricultural and horticultural crops in many areas by certain birds, notably pigeons and bullfinches. The wholesale slaughter of bird pests would be impracticable, and would also involve the destruction of protected species and other wild life and would be unacceptable to public opinion. Scientists here and in other countries are engaged in research to find new and better ways of reducing damage by birds.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, which I am afraid must remain disappointing. Will Her Majesty's Government go on working on this problem, which is a very serious one and has very much increased since the discouragement of small boys from collecting birds' eggs?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, there are a number of other ways besides that. The Ministry is developing a method of presenting a stupefying substance which would be used on wood pigeons. The affected birds are then picked up and humanely destroyed. There is some control by shooting; there is some control by nest reduction, and the noble Lord may also know that in the United States the Americans are working on a process which is delicately called "reproduction inhibitors".
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, while respecting the noble Lord's admission about the damage which pigeons do, and also respecting the traditional emotional feelings towards birds and animals in this country, may I ask him whether he does not think that the moment has arrived for a more aggressive warfare against them, in towns as well as in the country? Surely, we cannot understand him rightly as saying that the Government do not think that public opinion would support the protection of farmers, hygiene and historic and other buildings.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, what I said was that public opinion would not tolerate wholesale slaughter. The use of poisonous substances, for instance, would be an easy way out; but it would not be acceptable and would cause damage to other animals and birds.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the alternative which he suggests, that of investigations by the Ministry, 937 would not be much more expensive than enlisting the aid of little boys?
My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government take notice of the fate of the sheep of Denver, and see that none of these stupefying gases get loose among the members of Her Majesty's Government?