HL Deb 15 October 1981 vol 424 cc444-51

4 Clause 2, page 3, line 4 leave out 'in England and Wales' and insert 'in any area of England and Wales which the Secretary of State may by order prescribe for the purposes of that subsection'.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 4. This amendment has removed the ban on Sunday wildfowling which was added to the Bill by a vote in your Lordships' House of no less than 129 to 64. It is for that reason that I thought it right that your Lordships should have another opportunity to consider the matter. I believe, as your Lordships' House clearly did when the amendment was carried here, that the situation would be much simpler, fairer and more conducive to obtaining accurate counts of wildfowl if Sunday wildfowling were prohibited.

I should like to mention quickly six points which were used in support of this amendment when it was carried in your Lordships' House. First, the position now is not that it is legal to shoot wildfowl on Sundays throughout the whole country. In another place the Minister said that there was an absolute right for people to shoot wildfowl on Sundays and that statement may have swayed Members of the other place in deciding to disagree with your Lordships, but it is simply not true. There is no absolute right. The shooting of wildfowl and waders on Sunday is not permitted at the moment in Scotland nor in a number of English and Welsh counties based on the old administrative areas—namely, Anglesea, Brecknock, Caernarvon, Carmarthen, Cardigan, Cornwall, Denby, Devon, Glamorgan, the Isle of Ely, Merioneth, Mont gomery, Norfolk, Pembroke, Somerset, York, North Riding, West Riding and the old county boroughs of Doncaster, Great Yarmouth and Leeds. So there is no consistency over the country at the moment, and one of the arguments which your Lordships accepted when we passed this amendment was that it would simplify matters were Sunday shooting illegal in a uniform way over the whole country.

Secondly, Sundays are the days when wildfowl counts and estuary surveys are undertaken. These provide scientific information which is of enormous importance to the conservation organisations, such as the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Wildfowl Trust, which undertake them. These organisations are seriously disrupted if wildfowling is taking place at the same time. The third argument to which I personally attached particular significance when we debated this before is the question of fairness to birdwatchers. There are some 1 million bird-watchers and probably some 100,000 wildfowlers. It seems to me to be fair, as happens in those areas where Sunday wildfowling is currently prohibited—such as my own county of Norfolk—that one day of the weekend should be available on which bird-watchers should be able to pursue their hobby uninterrupted by the blasting of shotguns. At the same time, I personally find it very convenient to be able to avoid walking on the one day of the weekend on marshes when I know that wildfowling will be taking place and which I can visit on the second day; in other words, for wildfowlers to have a day on which they are less likely to have their sport disturbed by birdwatchers.

It is clear, as the Government Minister himself acknowledged in the other place, that conflicts are inevitable if Sunday wildfowling is allowed to continue. In April of this year 36 RSPB wardens were circulated with a questionaire asking for their views on Sunday shooting. This survey showed that certain areas suffered far more than others from shooting on Sundays and that birdwatching can be completely ruined when this is in progress. As I have said, Sunday wildfowling counts can be seriously disrupted.

Fourthly, there is clearly an argument for saying that it is helpful to have one day of the week, particularly in the winter months when days are cold and short, when all wildfowl and waders, including protected species, are free from disturbance. Several European countries recognise this and only permit hunting on three or four days of the week. In one case—that of Sardinia—hunting is permitted on only two days of the week. It seems to me that for this country to have a uniform provision for hunting to be banned only one day of the week is a relatively modest proposal in European terms.

Fifth, I want to counter an argument which was put to me very strongly in a number of letters I received before this debate; that to ban Sunday shooting would be unfair to working people. I appreciate the concern for the working class that has come from some surprising quarters when we have been discussing this amendment. Nevertheless, of the letters I have been sent, a number of them make it perfectly clear that Saturday shooting is just as important as Sunday shooting to working people, and that really goes to support my argument that as long as shooting is permitted on Saturday, and Sunday is left for birdwatchers, there is a reasonable degree of fairness to both parties. There are, of course, working-class birdwatchers who would like to watch birds on estuaries at weekends and who would like to be able to do so on one day without having their enjoyment spoiled by shooting. More seriously—and I find this totally convincing—in those areas such as Scotland and my own county, Norfolk, where there is currently a ban on wildfowling on Sundays, there are absolutely no complaints from wildfowlers. In my part of the Norfolk coast the wildfowling clubs have as many working-class people as wildfowling clubs anywhere else. Their sport is not obstructed or interfered with in any way and, so far as I know, nobody has suggested that in any of those areas there is any demand for the ban on Sunday wildfowling to be rescinded.

Finally, your Lordships' House took this decision after a number of long and lengthy debates by a very large majority. At the time I do not believe we were aware of the fact that we were actually implementing a recommendation from a departmental committee on the protection of wild birds which reported in 1919. Your Lordships' House often takes a particular interest in following up the recommendations of departmental and other committees and Royal Commissions and complains about the fact that such recommendations are not implemented by the Government of the day as quickly as they should be. Therefore, I hope that for all the reasons I have given we may at long last do justice to the committee which sat in 1919 and ensure that its recommendations are implemented, and that Sunday wildfowling remains—as your Lordships' House decided it should be—prohibited over the whole country and not just in parts of it. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth disagree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(LordMelchett.)

3.47 p.m.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I should like to rise for a moment to support my noble friend very strongly in his amendment and to draw attention to the fact that the number of birdwatchers is very much greater—and their purpose so very much more laudable—than that of wildfowlers. I feel that the Minister is likely to say that there is nothing to worry about because the Secretary of State will prescribe large areas where shooting will not take place. That is not enough and the provision which your Lordships voted for should be restored to the Bill. I hope that will be the case.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I rise to oppose the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. The noble Lord has given us some of the arguments, which he puts very reasonably, as always, and which he has produced in your Lordships' House before. I do not have very much more to add to that which has been said in your Lordships' House before, but I should like to make the point most strongly that the time when wildfowlers go out tends to be at dawn and at dusk. Those are the times when the ducks are fighting, and this tends to be either before the birdwatchers have arrived or sometimes after they have gone home. If one bans shooting on a Sunday, one is going to put an awful lot of pressure on Saturdays. Indeed the birdwatchers may find that this is greatly to their disadvantage as time goes on. There will be an enormous number of people coming down on a Saturday and a lot more shooting will be taking place which at the moment is spread over the entire week-end. As the noble Lord said, this is very much—I do not particularly like the term "working class" myself but the noble Lord used it—something which is enjoyed by the ordinary man in the street who likes to do a bit of shooting and likes to do it legally and can do it at the present time in certain areas below the tide line on a Sunday.

Then again, if the whole country was uniform, what a very dull country we should live in. There would not be a great deal of point in this Wildlife and Countryside Bill which is concerned with the whole variety of our countryside and the variety of practices that take place at the moment. It would be very dull if we had exactly the same things going on throughout the whole length and breadth of the country.

I think sometimes your Lordships slightly get the wrong end of the stick and I hope your Lordships may have second thoughts about this Bill. After the vote last time I was speaking to one noble Lord. I was rather surprised that he voted in favour of stopping wildfowlers shooting on Sunday and he said, "Well, of course, if you allow Sunday shooting I shall have to pay my beaters double overtime on Sundays and I am not voting for that One should be absolutely sure that this is purely below the tide line on a Sunday; it is not shooting everything on Sundays; it is not letting everybody shoot everywhere on Sundays, and I hope your Lordships may have second thoughts on this and will disagree most strongly with the amendment.

Lord Burton

My Lords, I should like to agree with my noble friend. Some of us would have a great deal more sympathy with the birdwatching fraternity, who appear to want an excluded day of the week, if one felt that the birds would get some peace. But I know of a heronry which has been completely deserted because the birdwatchers have arrived and photographed it and driven the birds away altogether. This summer there was a rare diver nesting on a log not very far from me. One could see into the nest from the overhanging bank by means of a telescope, but one day a "bearded wonder" arrived in a rubber boat and put the bird off the nest. These are the sort of disturbances and troubles that we have to put up with, and clearly he was not one of the shooting fraternity.

Another case arose with the ospreys. Instead of nesting in their usual tree at Aviemore they started to nest in another tree. That tree was cut down, and I suspect it was the RSPB who cut it down, with the idea of getting the bird to go back to its original tree. If it were not for these sort of incidents I think bird-watchers would receive a great deal more sympathy.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Burton, seems to be saying is that even if the shooting of these birds on Sundays is banned the birds still will not get any peace, so why not shoot them and put them at peace instead of having them harassed by birdwatchers later on. That seems to me to be most peculiar. I observed when we were dis cussing this matter originally how little one heard about the English Sabbath in your Lordships' House. After 25 years in another place, full of agnostics and atheists, I thought that coming here I should hear a little more about the English Sabbath and a great deal more about the Welsh Sabbath, but the Bishops' Bench is empty today, as it was when we discussed this matter before. Indeed the reputation of the Church last time was saved only by the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Coggan, who supported the banning of shooting on the Sabbath. I think we should regard it as our duty to confirm the bishops in their own judgment on the keeping of the English Sabbath and send this amendment back to the House of Commons and say that we insist, whether they like it or not, on banning the shooting of these birds on the Sabbath. I think that for once in a way a peremptory message back to the Commons on such a sensitive subject might do good.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am sure that would be a message that we could send back with one or two of the amendments, but I hope we do not get carried away too far with the amendments that we are going to discuss today.

The House will know that the Government believe that further protection for species should be given if there is a conservation case for this. There is no suggestion that there is a conservation case for a complete prohibition on Sunday shooting in the United Kingdom, and for that reason of course we do not see the need for disagreeing with the Commons amendment. However, we do consider that local custom should be respected. The Government believe that it is right and proper to allow this traditional practice to be a matter for local democracy rather than to impose a new restriction where it is not wanted by the local inhabitants. I think this was a view which prevailed in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made much of what is going on in various places now and how happy it would be. There is no reason why that should be disturbed, but we want the status quo to go on in other places, too. I thought for a moment that I was going to have to put a new animal on one of my schedules when I heard about the "bearded wonder", and I was delighted to find that it was actually a human being after all.

As it was succinctly put in another place, any conflict between birdwatchers and wildfowlers is not on the ground but in the mind. Additionally, I should like to make the point that wildfowling is subject to a close season, whereas of course birdwatching can take place at any time of the year. I would not deny that wildfowling causes some disturbance to birds but, as we have heard today, birdwatchers can do the same, and particularly in respect of the rarer birds for which disturbance is often particularly harmful.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, raised the question of counts of shore birds on Sundays and I am advised that these only take place on a few sheltered days and at selected sites. The counts normally take place at or near high tide, and this does not conflict with the wildfowling. Counts have been going on without interference by shooting for a long time and I am sure that wildfowlers would co-operate with those organising a count to ensure that it was as effective as possible.

I should like to turn now to a factor which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and my noble friend Lord Swinton both mentioned and of which I do not think we took a great deal of account in this House when we accepted the original amendment—namely, that, for those with shoots of their own and plenty of freedom to choose their own timetable, it has long been a tradition not to shoot on Sundays, but for many people that is not so. Sunday morning and Saturday morning may be the only opportunities that they have to practice their sport. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, mentioned this and said that they could do without Sunday, but of course that is 50 per cent. and I believe it would be a ban for which there is no justification.

I strongly urge the House to support Amendment No. 4, which has the virtue of restoring a well understood law, if different in different parts of the country, while allowing for the changing opinions of each area should public opinion in some places, perhaps even inspired by a right reverend Prelate, decide that Sunday shooting was no longer tolerable.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, it seems to me that noble Lords opposite who have spoken against the amendment are really scraping the barrel a little if they are forced to suggest that birdwatchers, even those who behave in ways which the majority of birdwatchers would deplore, are doing as much damage as the people who are actually shooting and killing birds. That really is not the case. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, suggested that we should leave this to local democracy and that the existing practice was well understood. With the greatest respect, that is not the case at all, because the existing practice is based on old administrative boundaries in a whole lot of places which, so far as local government is concerned, do not exist any more; and how people are expected to remember that they can shoot in one part of an old administrative area which is no longer in force but cannot do so in another, I have no idea. That local democracy is still working in places like the West Riding of Yorkshire or wherever, when all the boundaries have been changed since the ban on Sunday shooting was imposed, is a surprise to me, but, if so, the Government have invented yet another tier of local government at a stroke.

As I said earlier, your Lordships' House decided this matter by a very large majority last time. I do not believe that the House got hold of the wrong end of the stick and it is insulting to suggest that it did. I hope your Lordships will repeat the former decision.

4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not-Contents, 99.

Amherst, E. Bishopston, L.
Ampthill, L. Blease, L.
Aylestone, L. Briginshaw, L.
Balogh, L. Brockway, L.
Banks, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Bruce of Donington, L.
Beswick, L. Chitnis, L.
Birk, B. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Collison, L. Melchett, L.—[Teller.]
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Mersey, V.
Molloy, L.
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Oram, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Pargiter, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Peart, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Plant, L.
Foot, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Gaitskell, B. Seear, B.
Gladwyn, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hale, L. Shinwell, L.
Hampton, L. Somers, L.
Hanworth, V. Soper, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hunt, L. Stone, L.
Jacques, L. Strabolgi, L.
Jeger, B. Underhill, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.— [Teller.]
John-Mackie, L.
Kaldor, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Kennet, L. Whaddon, L.
Kilbracken, L. White, B.
Leatherland, L. Wigoder, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Winstanley, L.
Wootton of Abinger, B.
Longford, E.
Abercorn, D. Holderness, L.
Abinger, L. Hunt of Fawley, L.
Adeane, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Ailesbury, M. Ilchester, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Inchyra, L.
Arbuthnott, V. Kemsley, V.
Avon, E. Knutsford, V.
Beloff, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Belstead, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Bessborough, E. Liverpool, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Long, V.
Burnham, L. Lonsdale, E.
Burton, L. Lyell, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. McFadzean, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Clwyd, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Cockfield, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cottesloe, L. Margadale, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Marley, L.
Daventry, V. Monk Bretton, L.
De Freyne, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
De La Warr, E. Newall, L.
Denham, L.—[Teller.] Noel-Buxton, L.
Derwent, L. Norfolk, D.
Digby, L. Northchurch, B.
Dormer, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Ebbisham, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Eccles, V. Peel, E.
Effingham, E. Platt of Writtle, B.
Elphinstone, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Energlyn, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Portland, D.
Faithfull, B. Reilly, L.
Ferrers, E. Rochdale, V.
Fortescue, E. Romney, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Rugby, L.
Gainford, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Gibson-Watt, L. Saint Brides, L.
Glendevon, L. Sandford, L.
Gormanston, V. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Grafton, D. Skelmersdale, L.
Gridley, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Hailsham of St. Marylebone, L. Swansea, L.
Swinton, E.
Hankey, L. Terrington, L.
Harvington, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hatherton, L. Trumpington, B.
Hawke, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Henley, L. Vivian, L.
Hives, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion to disagree disagreed to accordingly.