House Of Commons
Friday, 9th April, 1954
The House met at Eleven o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Ashridge (Bonar Law Memorial) Trust Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
Missing Comet Aircraft
The House will have heard with deep regret that a B.O.A.C. Comet operated by South African Airways is missing on a flight from Rome to Cairo. Twenty-one people, including the crew, were on board. Search operations are going on but nothing has yet been found, though there are reported to be traces of oil south-west of Naples.On hearing the news last night, B.O.A.C. decided—and in this they have my full support—immediately to suspend Comet services until more is known. The Chief Investigating Officer of my Ministry is in Italy and is on his way to Rome to make preliminary inquiries. The House will remember that on 8th March I announced that B.O.A.C. had decided—after exhaustive examination of all their Comets and after incorporation of numerous modifications—to start passenger services again. In this decision, as I told the House at the time, they had my full concurrence. I must express, on behalf of the Government and, I am sure, of the House, our profound sympathy with South African Airways, with B.O.A.C. and with the relatives and friends of all concerned. There will, of course, be a full inquiry.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I should like to associate myself with the sympathy that the Minister has expressed with those responsible for this service and with the relatives and friends of those on board this aircraft. We thank him for giving this information at such an early stage, and we trust that he will keep the House informed of any development that may occur and of any further knowledge he may receive about this unfortunate occurrence.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I will readily do as he suggests.
Orders Of The Day
Protection Of Birds Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.
Clause 2—(Exceptions To S 1 With Respect To Certain Wild Birds, Nests And Eggs)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out "injuring."It might be convenient if we considered this Amendment together with the Amendments in lines 20, 23, and 25 which are concerned with the same subject. Clause 2 allows an authorised person to kill, injure or take birds listed in the Second Schedule and allows anyone to kill, injure and take birds included in the Third Schedule outside the close season. As the Clause stands, a sportsman who wounded a bird in attempting to kill it and was unable to recover it would be liable to a penalty and this would not be reasonable. In Committee, the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) pointed out that, as drafted, the Clause would authorise the deliberate infliction of injury without killing. This was never intended and these Amendments are designed to make it clear that Clause 2 does not authorise a deliberate cruelty but only injury in the course of an attempt to kill.
I beg to second the Amendment. I am quite sure a special chorus of birds will greet the noble Lady tomorrow morning when she wakes.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: in page 1, line 20, at end, insert
"or by reason of the injuring of such a bird in the course of an attempt to kill it."
In line 23, leave out "injuring."
In line 25, at end, insert
"or by reason of the injuring of such a bird outside that season in the course of an attempt to kill it."— [Lady Tweedsmuir.]
I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, at the end, to insert:
In Committee, the hon. Member fox Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas), supported by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), suggested that there should be some provision authorising the taking and sale of water fowl eggs, otherwise the Bill would prohibit the practice of the taking and selling of eggs for the restocking of ponds of owners who like to have waiter-fowl on their places. This Amendment, and the subsequent Amendment to Clause 6, page 6, line 36, makes provision accordingly that only authorised persons will be allowed to take eggs for this purpose, and I think that is a desirable safeguard. The only eggs that may be taken for the purpose are those of ducks, geese and swans, because game birds are outside this Bill, and the practice in question is confined to them and to the birds referred to in the Amendment. It seems desirable to include the eggs of geese and swans since they are often kept in more or less wild conditions. It is sometimes thought that all swans enjoy a royal protection, but that is not so."or by reason of the taking of an egg of a wild duck, wild goose or swan if it is shown that the egg was taken for the purpose of causing it to be hatched."
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, after "poultry," to insert:
Clause 2 and Clause 6 of the Bill authorise the taking and sale of gull eggs for human consumption or as food for poultry. In Committee, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) asked whether for this purpose poultry included ornamental water fowl and suggested that the use of gulls' eggs for feeding them should be allowed. It seems a reasonable point and this Amendment and a later Amendment to page 6, line 36 allows their use for the feeding of ornamental ducks, geese and swans as well as poultry."ornamental ducks, ornamental geese or swans."
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, after "and," to insert "(except in Scotland)."This Clause applies to the shooting of woodcock and the Amendment refers to a time when, in any case, they are in thick cover. The shooting could not conceivably make any serious inroads on the woodcock population if they were shot after 1st September in Scotland. This provision would also give holiday-makers a chance at the woodcock which he otherwise would not get, and the acceptance of the Amendment would bring the law into line as between woodcock and snipe.
I beg to second the Amendment.
The reasons for prolonging the closed season for woodcock to the end of September, as at present provided in the Bill, is because the bird breeds late and many are still moulting in September. I said in Committee that I did not have the times of the close season in various parts of the country by me, but I have since found that the close season for woodcock has been extended to the end of September in nine counties, to 31st August in four, and to 31st July in the remaining 20 counties.An Amendment was moved in Committee but was defeated to end the close season on 11th August throughout Great Britain. It seems to me that there is very much less objection to the present proposal to end the close season in Scotland only at the end of August, in view of the different dates in different parts of the country, and it may be that in parts of Scotland there would be little chance of sportsmen shooting woodcock at the end of September. Because the Amendment is a reasonable compromise I should like the House to accept it.
The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) said that in Committee an Amendment was defeated. That Amendment would have provided for a close season from 1st February to 11th August, instead of 1st February to 30th September as is provided in the Bill. The Amendment was defeated by 16 votes to nine. The present Amendment provides a close season in Scotland from 3rd February to 31st August. One of the reasons that were advanced in Committee for an earlier date for shooting was that youngsters would have an opportunity of gaining experience, but as the Amendment affects Scotland only I do not propose to vote against it.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, at the end, to insert:
(c) in the case of wild duck and wild geese in or over any area below high water mark of ordinary spring tides, the period in any year commencing with the twenty-first day of February and ending with the thirty-first day of August.
On a point of order. I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the two subsequent Amendments in my name and in the names of my hon. Friends as Amendments to the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) is moving.
It might be for the convenience of the House to say now that I do not propose to call the Amendments standing in the hon. Member's name to the Amendment proposed by the noble Lady.
I abide by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but a number of hon. Members and others outside this House are interested in my Amendments and I wonder whether there is any chance of you reconsidering your decision.
Further to that point of order. I have had many representations made to me about the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and, although this concerns only myself, I might add that I have taken a good deal of trouble to be here today and so, Mr. Speaker, I am doubly disappointed by your Ruling.
My selection was made after considerable care and study of this matter and of the Committee proceedings, and I cannot have it questioned in the House. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) should have been put to inconvenience to be here, but he should recollect that his duty is to be always here.
This is a very important Amendment, and I ask the House to allow me a little time to explain it fully. I am naturally conscious that there is a large number of Amendments to this Bill and that many hon. Members are waiting anxiously to discuss other Bills, but I feel that this Amendment is important because it touches two completely divergent views on the subject, both in the House and in the country.The Amendment extends the shooting season for wild duck and wild geese on the foreshore to 20th February throughout Great Britain. The Home Secretary still has power under the Bill to extend the close season up to 1st February if necessary. The Amendment is exactly in accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee which was established in 1938 under the chairmanship of Lord Ilchester and on the recommendations of which the bulk of the provisions in this Bill are based. Hon. Members are well aware that this is a very controversial matter, because they must have noticed that their correspondence has reflected two exactly divergent views. The Nature Conservancy, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others wish to close the shooting season on 1st January. The Wild Fowl Association and the British Field Sports Society and others wish it to come to an end at the end of February. To preserve a balance between these two views the Amendment retains the status quo. In other words, the present close season starts on 1st February, including all Scotland, except for four counties. In the other counties the dates are 11th February, 15th February and 21st February, the last including many of the major wildfowling counties. The arguments in favour of closing the season either on 31st January or 20th February are well known. Those who favour 31st January maintain that there is a serious decline in the world population of duck and geese, particularly the latter, and, in order to arrest the decline, the close season should start on 1st February, particularly to help the geese. It is said that it is not so much the number that are shot that matters as the whole question of disturbance, though it is true that in a hard winter the number shot does matter. It is thought that wildfowl need longer to recover from the winter and to get into a better condition for breeding. This obviously affects some species more than others, but we could not have different dates in the Bill for different kinds. I favour 1st February as being in the long-term interest of wildfowlers themselves, but on the other hand I do not think that one's personal views should colour one's judgment. On a matter like this one should try to secure a reasonable compromise among the interests concerned and all of us have to give and take, both inside and outside this House. Without doubt, the wildfowlers have a case. They point to the Ilchester Committee's recommendation, which without doubt is in the exact terms of the Amendment, and they say that they usually have a chance of shooting only at weekends, a fact with which I have considerable sympathy because my husband is only a Saturday wildfowler, for we do not shoot on Sundays in Scotland. At the beginning I did not accept 21st February because, as I have said, I knew that the matter was hotly disputed. Furthermore, Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of any outside body, although if it is wise it takes them seriously into account. In Committee, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) moved a similar Amendment, but this was withdrawn because it included all edible wildfowl, and it was never suggested that waders should be included among wild duck and geese. Since the Committee stage, I have been impressed by one argument in particular—namely, that certain wildfowl associations and local authorities did not put forward applications for extensions of the shooting time on the foreshore because they understood that Parliament was about to pass a Bill which would provide a statutory date of 21st February. We all know that the layman does not always understand Parliamentary practice, and it seems that some applications were withheld waiting for the Bill to become law. As a result, it appears that a sense of grievance has been built up, which is the last thing I want connected with the Bill. For all those reasons, I think it is a fair compromise to ask the House to accept the Amendment. I may be asked how it was that the Advisory Committee agreed on 21st February when their members included representatives not only of the Wild-fowlers Association and the British Field Sports Society but also of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Ornithological Trust and others. The Nature Conservancy was not directly represented on the Committee because it was not formed until 1949, and it is very strongly in favour of 1st February as the start of the close season. The Advisory Committee's agreement came as the result of a bargain. The Committee wanted the main close season to extend from 1st February to 31st August. The representatives of the British Field Sports Society and the Wild-fowlers Association were prepared to accept this with the rest of the Committee's recommendations if the Committee agreed to some extension of the shooting season to 20th February for duck and geese on the shore alone, and this was duly agreed. This was to apply to the whole of the country, but the Secretary of State was to have power to extend the close season on the shore of any area, by order. If the Amendment is accepted the Bill will still give him this power. Later Amendments are designed to secure that an extension of the close season need not be permanent but can be reviewed so as to restore the original situation after a time if circumstances change. Whatever our personal views—and I know they are all strongly held—it is vital in a Measure such as this, which involves so many different interests, that the Measure should be generally regarded as reasonable. In dealing with wildfowl in the lonely places, if this Bill becomes law it can be enforced only because people generally believe it to be fair. I therefore ask the House to accept the Amendment.
I beg to second the Amendment.I should like strongly to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) has said. In the original Bill for the protection of wild duck and geese which I was lucky enough to be able to introduce in 1939, and which was passed, we stipulated 11th August. Some people may ask why we chose 11th August then as the termination of the close season and are now suggesting 31st August I think hon. Members know that some of my hon. Friends have suggested that 11th August is a suitable time. But hon. Members should also recall that my Bill was introduced in May, 1939. Everyone knew that a war was coming, and speed was the essential quality required in order to ensure that the Bill was passed before the worst happened. It was therefore entirely a matter of compromise. We had to take the date on which everyone seemed to be generally agreed. The statement which I then made seems to represent exactly what my hon. Friend is seeking to do in the Bill:
That explains my hon. Friend's purpose in the Bill. I have discussed this matter with keepers of long experience of bird shooting and of wildfowl and bird life, and I am convinced that my noble Friend is right in extending the date to the 31st. I hope the House will support the Amendment."We are seeking to prevent the old ducks and geese being killed off while they are mating and nesting, and at the other end to prevent the young birds being shot before they are able to fly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1939; Vol. 346, c. 676.]
I should like to give my full support to the Amendment. Like other parts of the Bill, it is a compromise, because various interests must be considered in connection with bird protection. First of all, there are the protectionists who are concerned, as I think we all are in the House, with the preservation of the stocks of birds, and particularly of wildfowl, in this country. Secondly, there are the sporting interests. Thirdly, there are the commercial interests, if I may so describe them—the interests of the wildfowlers. I have several wildfowlers in my constituency who are engaged in the part-time occupation of wildfowling in the Severn Estuary. I am sure other hon. Members are in the same position. We must therefore try to achieve a compromise.I know that this is a difficult problem, because if shooting continues until 21st February there may be disturbance to birds which are breeding, but that is much less likely to happen if the shooting takes place on the foreshore. If the date inland is 1st February, the breeding of wildfowl will not be disturbed. It is inland rather than on the foreshore where breeding takes place. With geese it is another matter, but geese breed in the Arctic or the Far North. I do not think the argument about disturbing breeding will be a serious argument in the case of wild duck. Moreover, wild duck are not on the decline in this country, certainly not in the South of England, which I perhaps know best. In the case of geese it is a more serious problem, but there, as I have said, other considerations arise. There is an additional reason why the Amendment should commend itself to the House. If there is any danger of any species becoming rare owing to too much shooting, the Home Secretary will have powers, which are to be fortified in the later stages of the Bill, making it possible for him to vary the order and to give protection until the stock of birds has been built up again. For those reasons, I support the Amendment.
It would be appropriate, although the two Amendments which follow are not to be called, for me to add my thanks to my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for going as far as to accept the date of 21st February. I know it is against her own feelings to do so. I am sure wildfowlers will appreciate what she has been able to do in this matter.No doubt I should be out of order if I said that I wish the date were a little permissive in the other direction, but I would emphasise that the date 21st February is only the outside date; it is permissive, and it is up to local councils, through representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary, to have the final say.
I am sure that wildfowlers will be grateful to the noble Lady for asking the House to agree to this extension for shooting on the foreshore. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has had a great many letters on the subject over the last two weeks. Wildfowlers as a class are not among those who write to their Members of Parliament every week-end, so they must feel strongly before they write the number of letters which they have done.The noble Lady has called this a reasonable compromise. As far as it affects the foreshore it is, and those who do not agree with her wholly ought to be satisfied with regard to the powers of the local authorities to make amendments lengthening this close season if they see good reason. It would be impossible for this House to agree to one firm, fixed date to cover both the South of England and the North of Scotland which would only be alterable by fresh legislation. The climate is so different from one length of this Island to another that local authorities must have discretion. Where I disagree with the noble Lady, and where I think the compromise is not reasonable, is with regard duck shooting inland. On the shore three weeks have been taken from one end of the season and three weeks added to the other end. Is this not correct? Inland three weeks have recently been lost at one end while nothing is added at the other.
It is quite incorrect.
Something more midway would have better warranted the title of a reasonable compromise, so I hope that something in this direction may be done in another place.It is not true, as the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has said, that inland people shoot ducks before the birds can fly. I have never seen that happen even if he has. If that is the argument on which the inland shooting has been delayed until 1st September it is not convincing.
Perhaps it is time that this House heard something from somebody who is not a wildfowler. Reference has been made by various hon. Members to the number of letters they have received, but of course we are all aware that this has been an organised campaign. I will pay my tribute to the wildfowlers organisation, however, for they have been efficient in their campaign, and I only wish the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had been equally alive to the implications of this Clause. I have no wish to divide the House this morn- ing. The noble Lady has offered a compromise to many who feel strongly on this subject, but it is only right that we who do not shoot, the majority of the people in this country, should voice what we have to say.The Bill which was introduced in another place, before this one came here, provided for shore shooting in just the way that this Amendment offers, but during its passage through the other place it emerged with the provisions which were included in this Bill as originally introduced. I want to quote from the "Shooting Times and Country Magazine" because, although it is a magazine which I do not take normally, and although through the kindness of its editors it was supplied to Members of Parliament, strangly enough no copy was sent to me. Whether my activities during the Committee stage of the Bill precluded tie from this concession I do not know, but at any rate the omission has been remedied. That is what it said:
What does this August shooting mean? We are covering wild geese and wild duck, but wild geese are not here during August so that this surrender means very little. As far as wild duck are concerned I have nothing to say, but we ought to be able to assess the real value of the concession which the wildfowlers are said to have offered. Mention has been made of the proceedings of the Wild Birds Advisory Committee and that they recommended the period which the noble Lady has included in her Amendment. Nevertheless I understand that there was violent controversy within the Committee as to what should be recommended, and although it emerged as a compromise recommendation, we are not bound as Members of Parliament to accept whatever comes to us from outside. I repeat what I have said before, both on this Bill and on other occasions, that it is time Parliament asserted its independence of outside organisations which choose to reach compromises and then expect us to ratify them. I think I am correct in saying that we are going to allow nearly six months of shooting now for wild geese and wild duck, whereas in the United States of America they get just five weeks—five weeks as opposed to more than five months. In the United States not so long ago there were multitudes of wild geese and wild duck but indiscriminate shooting reduced their numbers so much that the Legislatures of the States decided to cut down the period to five weeks. As I have said before, I have no intention of dividing against this Amendment because, unhappy though I am about it, we want to see the Bill go through. I hope, however, that the local authorities which already have earlier dates for the close of the shooting season will submit recommendations to the Home Secretary so that he can exercise his powers under Clause 9 of this Bill to restore the position to what it is today."Wildfowlers were prepared to surrender their August shooting in exchange for a fixed February extension."
I want to add my thanks to those of others to the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for placing this Amendment on the Order Paper. I was one of those who, on receiving communications from wild-fowling friends and others, felt that closing down at the end of January was too harsh from their point of view and that a compromise of this sort might be advisable.I believe it is a fact that most of the wildfowl on the foreshore in February are widgeon which breed later than mallard, and there is little reason why the wildfowl population should suffer unduly by this extension. There are plenty of wildfowl at present and there is no reason, therefore, why there should be a serious decline in the numbers of ducks and geese; indeed, with the passage of this Bill we may even get a superfluity of these birds before long. Because of that I regret that we are not to have an opportunity of considering the Amendments which have been ruled out of order by you, Mr. Speaker, because if they had been moved, I would have supported them.
I have a considerable area of foreshore in my constituency and a large number of wildfowlers. Like other hon. Members, I have received many circular letters and printed documents about this matter. My constituents do not write long personal letters giving their experience in sport unless they feel strongly about a matter, and many of those letters have impressed me considerably. I look upon wildfowling as one of the best forms of sport and it is appreciated by people in every class of society. Therefore, while I am not enthusiastic about this, I am quite ready to accept it as a reasonable compromise.
It is perhaps right that I should say a word on behalf of the Government on this Amendment. I do not want to enter into its merits; it is a matter on which the House must be free to make up its own mind. On the other hand, it is important, as my noble Friend has said, that what this Bill does shall be generally approved by those whom it will affect. Therefore, it is important that where we get a matter of fairly sharp controversy, something near the middle line should be taken. I think it is fairly clear from the course that the debate has taken this morning that my noble Friend has just about hit the middle line. For that reason, I would personally recommend the House to accept the Amendment as the proper way of dealing with this admittedly difficult and somewhat controversial question.
I should like to support my noble Friend. In my constituency we have a very large foreshore. My constituents are mostly people who work from Mondays to Fridays, and it is only on Saturdays that they are able to do their shooting. I am sure that my constituents, like all wildfowlers, appreciate the need to preserve these birds, as my noble Friend has said. Indeed, there has been in my constituency no divergence of opinion on this Amendment.I should like to draw attention to the dangerous attitude which was revealed on the other side of the House, when reference was made to local authorities intervening and perhaps shooting down and undermining this Amendment—
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the local councils already have this power and have exercised it in the majority of cases?
I am aware of that, but I hope that local councils will pay attention to the feeling in this House.
I should like to thank my noble Friend on behalf of the Kent Wildfowlers Association, of which I am President. As my noble Friend knows, there are many wildfowlers in Kent, and I assure her that they are most appreciative of the manner in which she has met their desires in this matter. I should also like to assure her that many of them are very keen ornithologists; they are very careful to preserve wildfowl, and they assure me that they will give the utmost support to this Bill.
I have received more letters from those who want to protect birds than from the organised efforts of the wildfowlers. My feelings were like those of my hon. Friend for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), and at first sight I felt strongly inclined to oppose this Amendment. I have been persuaded, however, by the noble Lady that we had better accept it. I hope this will be the last concession that is made, and that the Bill will not be further amended in this respect elsewhere.
I should like particularly to say how pleased I am that my noble Friend has moved this Amendment. Upstairs in Committee I was rather inclined to favour the original suggestion, but I found that certain reasons which persuaded me to give my support to her upstairs were not founded upon fact. I think that the noble Lady, I am sure quite unwittingly, may have exaggerated the decline of wildfowl in certain parts of the country, including that part that I myself have the honour to represent, Holy Island. The noble Lady said that about the largest number of geese seen during the year was about 25. I was told later that a colony of about 3,000 soon appeared, which would seem to prove that the noble Lady may have exaggerated.11.45 a.m. The only other subject which I should like to mention is this. I wonder whether the noble Lady might at some stage today either justify a remark she made upstairs about the slaughtering of geese by punt gunners, or withdraw it. It is my opinion that until one is able to substantiate a fact it ought not to be brought out on the Floor of the House for discussion. There are very few punt gunners left in England. They do very little harm, and I think that unless a case can be proved and the names of the slaughterers given, my noble Friend should, in justice, withdraw what she said upstairs.
I rise to intervene for the first time in this debate. I suppose hon. Members will say that I am more concerned with the making of guns and with the stuff that goes in them, than their use. As a matter of fact, I have had some experience of wildfowling, both in season and out of season, and I think it was recorded in the game book as "various."I should like the Minister to elucidate one point for me. He said that this Amendment has been supported by those whom it affects most. May we be assured that "those" includes both the wildfowler and the wildfowl? I am certain that he will not have had assurances from the wildfowl. I do not wish to waste any more time. I represent neither wildfowlers nor wildfowl, and that is all there is to it.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 39, to leave out "extend," and to insert "vary."May I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that we should consider, at the same time, the next Amendment in page 2, line 40.
Yes, these two Amendments might well be discussed together.
Attention was drawn to the fact that while the Bill enables the Secretary of State to extend the close season, it does not enable him to shorten it. This means that an extention order is irrelevant. The effect would be too rigid. The intention is that the close seasons laid down in the Bill should be minimum close seasons and the Secretary of State should have no power to reduce them.On the other hand, it was intended that if he extended a close season, he should have power subsequently to reduce it again to what it was originally. This is desirable to meet special cases so that the close season for a species which had suffered a particularly severe winter could be extended for two or three seasons to allow the species to recover, and then be reduced again to its original length. These Amendments accordingly enable the Secretary of State not only to extend the close season but also to shorten the extended season again, so long as it is not made shorter than the Bill lays down. I notice that several hon. Members have put their names to my Amendment in line 39 to vary the seasons, but not to my Amendment in line 40 which makes it clear that any variation can only take place within the general limits laid down by the Bill. It would be quite wrong to give the Secretary of State power to reduce those seasons to even shorter periods, not only because of the obvious harm that it would do to the birds during nesting periods, but we might get an extreme Secretary of State who might say that there should be no close season at all.
I beg to second the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 2, line 40, at end, insert:
"so, however, that no such order shall prescribe a close season for any bird in any area commencing on a date later or ending on a date earlier than that which would have been applicable in the case of that bird in that area if this proviso had not been passed."
In page 2, line 41, leave out from beginning, to end of line 10, on page 3.—[ Lady Tweedsmuir.]
Clause 3—(Power To Establish Bird Sanctuaries)
Amendments made: In page 3, line 29, leave out "injuring."
In line 30, at end, insert:
"or by reason of the injuring of such a bird in the course of an attempt to kill it."
In line 31, leave out "a wild bird so included," and insert "such a bird."—[ Lady Tweedsmuir.]
I beg to move, in page 3, line 32, at the end, to insert:
"or by reason of the taking of an egg of a wild duck, wild goose or swan if it is shown that the egg was taken for the purpose of causing it to be hatched."
I beg to second the Amendment.I am a little worried about the term, "authorised person." I raised in Committee the case of a farm labourer who found a wild duck, part eaten, and a nest of eggs nearby which, obviously, had not been sat on much. He put the eggs in his cap and took them to a keeper on a neighbouring estate, who put them under a broody hen and gave the labourer 5s. for his trouble. In that case he was not an authorised person and would be liable to imprisonment and a fine. I think the matter should be clarified in another place.
I think my hon. Friend is unduly alarmed because the person who permits someone else, like the farm labourer, to do that is authorised by the gamekeeper, if the gamekeeper is an authorised person himself.
In this case, the farm labourer was on a neighbouring estate and, if he applied to be an authorised person, by the time he became such the eggs would have been bad.
I hope that the question of the authorised person will not be pressed too far. The Amendment seems very wide and it seems that anyone could take the egg of a wild duck, a goose or a swan anywhere and not be strictly within the confines of the instance given during the Committee stage.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 5—(Prohibition Of Certain Methods Of Killing Or Taking Wild Birds)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 26, at the end, to insert:
It may be convenient if at the same time we consider the Amendment in my name to page 6, line 1, after "cage-trap," to insert "or decoy or model." The object of these Amendments is to prevent the use of decoys in the shooting or killing of wild geese. At the outset, I wish to point out that this is by no means an attempt to prevent the decent shot of the occasional sportsman. On the other hand, it is an attempt to prevent the wholesale slaughter of these most interesting birds, the wild geese. My constituency has in it practically the whole of the south bank of the Humber, which is perhaps one of the most important areas in the country for wild geese. They rest on the mud flats there and visit the neighbouring agricultural land for feeding purposes. I want to assure the House that there is nothing sentimental about moving this Amendment, unless it is sentimental to wish to preserve a species in which everyone seems to be interested. It is a move by honest-to-God farmers and landowners in this part of North Lincolnshire which I represent and not by any means by bespectacled professors who have no great interest in down-to-earth matters. Farmers are often accused of being quite willing to destroy the wild life on the land by which they live, but I hope the House will agree that that is by no means the case. On the contrary, they have a tender spot for all the fauna on their land; and only when pests are too numerous and destructive is the farmer himself up in arms. This is certainly not a move to prevent the honest sport of the working man. I am not an expert, but I believe that in decoy shooting it is necessary to have a considerable amount of paraphernalia and even a motor car. Many of my working men constituents have cars as they are steel workers earning good money, but I submit that they are not the people interested in shooting geese by decoys. In my part of the world, so disgusted were many local farmers at what had been happening in the way of slaughtering these geese, that they entered into a declaration to prevent the use of decoys on their land. No fewer than 530 farmers and landowners, occupying 160,000 acres in North Lincolnshire, have signed a declaration saying that in future no one shall shoot geese over decoys on their land. I think that is a wonderful demonstration by the farmers. I wish to read from statements which have been made by farmers and for which I can vouch. I can give the names to the noble Lady if she wishes to have them, but do not wish to give them in the House. One farmer in my constituency said:(f) for the purpose of killing or taking any wild goose uses as a decoy any dead bird or model of a bird."
The statement of that gentleman who shot 80 was that with another man he shot 80 wild geese over decoys in one morning and that he was disgusted with himself. It is because of such feelings that these farmers have made this declaration, and I hope that the House will seriously consider prohibiting the use of decoys for this purpose. 12 noon. Assuming that the House accepts my first Amendment, the purpose of my second Amendment is to make it still lawful for decoys to be used for scientific purposes, such as the ringing of geese. But for my second Amendment—assuming that the first were accepted—it would perhaps be illegal to take geese by decoys for these special purposes."One all-too-successful morning when I shot 20 in a very short time, and could at least have doubled this number, went a very long way towards curing me of any desire to shoot geese at all. The confident way in which they keep flying in to what they think are their brothers is pretty sickening to many of us. A friend of mine, after shooting 80 in one day, felt the same, and I believe he would willingly give his name in the cause of good sportsmanship."
I beg to second the Amendment.I merely wish to point out that in true sport there is always a risk to both sides, but that where things are practically certain it is not sport but slaughter.
I have given a very great deal of thought to this problem which has been put before the House with much feeling and sincerity by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu). However, I do not feel that I can accept the Amendment as it stands, and I will give the reasons why. I would like to suggest a compromise which might be acceptable to the hon. and learned Gentleman.This problem has, of course, really arisen entirely in Lincolnshire, as has already been said. Those who shoot take the view that the number of geese mentioned in connection with this Amendment has been grossly exaggerated. I say that because I have to give the House both sides of the question. They say that one of the reasons why geese have declined in this area is largely due to the great deal of disturbance caused by aeroplanes. This problem, as it affected Lincolnshire, was put before the Home Office Advisory Committee who examined it, but because of the divergent views expressed and the difficulty of getting exact figures, it was decided to take no action. Quite apart from that, I suggest that the Amendment as it stands is rather drastic, because, if accepted, it would put an end to what is, after all, a long-established practice. It is comparable to moving an Amendment to abolish punt gunning altogether, whatever we may think of that sport. It is not clear how effective this Amendment would be. For instance, it would not stop wildfowlers from decoying wild geese by calls, which many people can do just as well as with models. There is nothing inherently worse in decoying geese with models than in taking them in some other way. Therefore, is it right to prohibit one form of sport while allowing the other to continue? The objection to the use of decoys for shooting geese is that the method is abused by a few people in order, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, to get excessively large bags. I submit that it does not follow that this justifies us in prohibiting the method altogether. Surely there can be little objection to it if it is used in moderation, unless, of course, the House comes to the conclusion that it is an unsporting method to use at all. Wild geese are never easy to shoot, and I do not quite see why genuine sportsmen should be prohibited by law from using decoys for the purpose of shooting two or three geese. Therefore, in view of the fact that there are without doubt two sides to the question, and that the considerations which have been put forward all seem to have come from Lincolnshire, I suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman might think it reasonable not to attempt a universal prohibition of the use of decoys, which would result if this Amendment were accepted, but to provide by order of the Secretary of State for such prohibition, perhaps only for a limited period, in areas where it can be shown that excessive shooting has occurred. This is a very complicated question, and a power of this kind might well be awkward to exercise. If there is a case for action, perhaps we could seek a compromise on the lines I have suggested. In these circumstances, perhaps the House might be willing—I hope it will—to leave the matter to me for the moment, when I will do my very best to see if something like I have suggested can be inserted in another place.
The noble Lady has referred twice to the Home Office in the course of her speech, once to say that the Home Office Advisory Committee on Wild Birds had considered this matter but had got the jitters and was afraid to do anything, and once to ask us to trust them again to deal effectively with the kind of Amendment which she suggests.I ask the noble Lady to remember that the Home Office always appears to be afflicted with the palsy whenever it is asked to do anything which to ordinary people seems very reasonable. It is not often that I rise to support landowners and farmers as a class, but I am very impressed by the fact that 530 landowners and farmers, who occupy 250 square miles of my hon. and learned Friend's constituency, have asked him to put forward this Amendment. It seems to be a serious matter, and I hope that it will receive serious consideration, although I note that the noble Lady has indicated that there are certain difficulties.
I wish to support my noble Friend in the line she has adopted towards this Amendment. Although I have a red face and have talked a good deal about duck and geese on this Bill, and may be thought to have shot a lot of geese, the truth is that I do not think that I have shot more than a dozen since the war. Before the war, I perhaps enjoyed shooting more.I have six stuffed geese, but I can honestly say that they have not been out of the cupboard since 1935, because they have never 'been able to attract any other geese. It may be that in the constituency of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite stuffed geese do attract other geese—indeed, I am quite sure that in certain instances they do—but that is not my personal experience of decoys. The old saying that there is nothing like an old goose chase did not come about for nothing.
Perhaps I should say a word in view of what my noble Friend has suggested. I have not had an opportunity of considering her suggestion, but the Amendment does appear to me to be somewhat drastic. I do not wish in any way to put pressure on hon. Members should this matter come to a Division. It is something for them to decide in accordance with what they think is right. On the other hand, the Amendment goes very far in order to deal with what, on the face of it, is a local problem. It would prohibit altogether this form of sport which is a long-established practice in many parts of the country. I think it right that I should say that.My noble Friend has suggested that the matter could, perhaps, be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary or by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland making a special order under powers in the Bill. I certainly would not rule that out as a possible solution of the difficulty, but I cannot give an answer to the suggestion now because it would have to be examined. It is a possible solution. If it appears to be desirable to prohibit this practice in certain places, I think on the whole, that it would be better done by a local order under the Bill than by way of this Amendment. I think it would be better to accept my noble Friend's suggestion than to accept the Amendment, though I do not wish in any way to suggest to the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) that he has not put his finger on a real problem, and one which should be dealt with.
I hope that the suggestion of the noble Lady will not be accepted. I know the area represented by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) extremely well and have spent thousands of hours on Humberside as a young man. It would appear to me that the effect of the noble Lady's suggestion would be that geese would be given a chance on the south side of the Humber, but it does not matter so much if they are shot over a decoy on the other side. In other words, preferential protection would be provided in this spot and then the same birds could be shot elsewhere in the country.This method of shooting geese is not fair. It reminds me of a soldier going out to rescue a wounded comrade and being shot by the enemy. When decoys are used the wild birds come down to see what is happening to an unfortunate colleague, as it were. I know a little about this business. As a boy with other boys I have used goldfinches on straddles and when other goldfinches came to see what all the noise was about they were captured in nets. My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. Steel workers and farmers in the area are nauseated by the use of these methods, and I hope that if necessary this Amendment will be pressed to a Division.
I hope the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) will accept the compromise suggested by my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). It is a long-standing practice to shoot over a decoy, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen who feel strongly about the matter that it is very unusual for a sportsman to bag more than one or two geese. I remember that on the last occasion on which I attempted to shoot geese I went out before first light across some very muddy ground. I lay in the wet and, when I attempted to move my feet, I found they were bogged down in thick black mud. I looked like hell and smelt to high heaven, and I did not get a solitary shot.I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite who may not practice this sport that the enormous bags which have been referred to are very seldom obtained. In the area which I represent the shooting of a wild goose is a chancy and occasional affair. But if the sort of thing we have been told about is happening in certain areas in Lincolnshire it would seem to me that the common sense of the local farmers will enable them to deal with the situation. The fact that landowners and farmers have banded together to prohibit the use of decoys on their land, as they are perfectly entitled to do, would seem to prove that they have taken adequate action to meet what is asked for in this Amendment. Where such a danger exists the common sense of local people will always be sufficient to counter it. Undoubtedly this is a local matter and I hope therefore, in view of the action already taken by farmers and landowners and the com- promise suggested by my noble Friend, that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press his Amendment.
Would the hon. Member agree that in Scotland not so long ago it was evident that both the landowners and workers were united in asking this House to pass a Bill to prohibit organised poaching? While it appeared to hon. Members that they were not concerned with individual poaching, they thought it necessary to legislate against organised poaching.
That is an entirely different matter. If the hon. Gentleman knows how poachers behave he will know that they do far worse things than put down decoys. They use leg traps and gin traps, and when they are poaching salmon they use cyanide—
Not the honest boys.
There is no relation between the use of decoys by wildfowlers and other responsible people and the activities of poachers.
On a point of order. May I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the Home Secretary would have power under this Bill, as it is now drafted, to deal with this matter, in addition to providing orders to vary the periods in which shooting can take place?
That is not a point of order. I do not know if it would help the discussion if the question were cleared up.
It is a relevant question. As I understand the position the Bill, as at present drafted, does not contain the necessary power to do what my noble Friend has suggested. It would therefore be necessary to insert the requisite power in the Bill. That can still be done in another place.
I hope the House will accept the assurances of the noble Lady that she will look into the matter. Clearly the Amendment is far too drastic. The use of decoys cannot be forbidden in the country as a whole. It is perfectly legitimate to use a decoy although it is not often used in the case of geese. It is used far more often in wild duck shooting.I hope it will be possible for the noble Lady and the Home Office to devise some method of extending the powers of the Home Secretary to deal with this matter. The principle already appears in other Clauses of the Bill where the Home Secretary has power to vary either way—I am glad to say—the expansion or retraction of the close season. It would seem to me that it is not impossible for some words to be inserted to deal with the abuse which has prompted my hon. and learned Friend to move his Amendment.
I have shot geese over decoys both in Holland and in America. In Holland we used stuffed decoys which were very useful in a fog. The geese were flying low and they came round to see what was happening. In America I have shot with live decoys as well; but I have shot more geese while sitting in the reeds on the edge of a Scottish loch with my feet in the water, keeping perfectly still. I have got more geese like that than I have got over decoys. I support what was said by the noble Lady.
Of course, if there is a vote it will be a perfectly free one. There is no question of party pressure on either side. I was a little startled by what one of my hon. Friends said about the attitude of the Home Office in these matters. I know the care and attention given to all these orders and their variations when they are considered on the application of local authorities. It is by no means true to say that the Home Office is smitten with palsy when it has to deal with such matters. That is the last disease that would ever affect the Home Office.I was a little disappointed with what the Under-Secretary said. I had hoped that when he rose for the second time he would give the House some guidance or form of promise. As I understand the matter, he has not promised that there will be help to the noble Lady in framing what I gather is a rather complicated Amendment which will require a nice consideration of draftsmen's language. I hope that at least we can get an assurance that in the cases where abuse exists and can be proved there should be put into the Bill something which will enable that to be dealt with.
I thought that I had made it plain—it certainly was my intention—that the point would be looked into. I cannot give a specific promise. I have not considered the matter. It will involve a somewhat technical alteration. I cannot possibly, here and now, without notice, give an undertaking that the Government will be responsible for having inserted into a Bill, which after all is a Private Member's Bill, an Amendment of that kind, but I can give the most complete undertaking that the matter will be thoroughly, carefully and sympathetically considered.
That was what I was complaining about—the limited nature of the undertaking. Can we have an assurance that if the noble Lady wishes to continue with the offer she has made she will have the advantage of having Government draftsmen at her disposal to find the proper form of words?
I am sure that, no matter how we decide, we should desire that the noble Lady, through her representative in the other place—and in view of her position with regard to a Member of the other place, heaven forbid that I should suggest who her representative there should be—should not be told, if an Amendment is moved to implement the pledge, that it is not quite the right form of words. There is a feeling which is not confined to one side of the House that on occasion there is grave abuse in this matter, and that that abuse should be ended. I hope that the Government will give the noble Lady assistance to carry out the suggestion which she has made.
My right hon. Friend has indicated that at least he is clear and that if he were responsible he would treat the Amendment with the greatest seriousness. I gather from some of the speeches, especially that of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), that some Members are content with the position as it is. The hon. Member for Gillingham believes that there is no need for an Amendment and that the local farmers and landlords may be left to their own devices to produce the protection which some of us desire to be given.I am satisfied with the intervention of my right hon. Friend, but I am not at all clear that the Home Office will not again be stricken with the difficulties that arise. The sportsmen in the House represent a very large section of the community, but far away from the Humber there are people in my constituency who have written to me on the matter. I wonder where they get their enthusiasm. I have had more earnest letters about the brent goose than about almost anything else on which I have had representations for a number of years. I know that that has been safeguarded. There is no difficulty there, because an Amendment has been accepted to give protection for many years. I know something about this. I have not had experience of lying in the mud looking for an opportunity to shoot geese, but I have got into mud because I like to watch geese. There are many people who think that the geese are more worthy of watching than shooting. I know that I tread on controversial ground and I know the pleasure which sportsmen get from their sport, but the time has come when we should be much more serious about the matter. If anything is to be done effectively there will have to be an experimental period allowed for an Amendment of the sort suggested so that we can see whether adequate protection has been provided. My view is that it would be better to divide the House, to see what the opinion of hon. Members is.
I have listened with great interest to what has been said. It is possible that what hon. Members opposite propose will achieve the object. Until they have achieved it—and this is in no sense an aspersion against them—I should have preferred to have a vote in favour of my Amendment which could easily have been altered in another place if a better means of achieving the end had been found.The arguments of hon. Members opposite seem largely to suggest that the evidence of slaughter which I produced was very local and possibly not even correct. I assure the House that my evidence has been checked and I believe it to be absolutely correct. The figures I gave are a sufficient evidence of wholesale slaughter to make something like my Amendment most necessary even if this is only a local problem. To establish the case it is not necessary to say that the population of wild geese is falling rapidly. I did not say that, but I said that it might well fall if this sort of thing continued. However, I have implicit confidence in what the noble Lady and the hon. Member have said with regard to something being done in another place about the problem, and, therefore, with some reluctance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, at the end, to insert:
The rock-dove or rock-pigeon is as damaging to crops and agricultural production generally as is the wood-pigeon, against which we have all declared war. The purpose of the Amendment is to enable effective steps to be taken to keep the rock-dove down. It lives in caves along the coast and in very many cases cannot be reached except by means of a boat in the sea under the caves. I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.Provided that nothing in this subsection shall make unlawful the use (in Scotland only) of a mechanically-propelled boat for the purpose of killing or taking rock-doves.
I beg to second the Amendment.Unless a self-propelled boat is used, the task becomes dangerous. It is often not possible to use a rowing-boat in strong tides in rocky areas on the coast. From the agricultural point of view—I have some experience of agriculture in Scotland—it would be an advantage to be able to deal with these birds.
Clause 5 (2) makes it an offence to use a mechanically-propelled boat in immediate pursuit of a wild bird for the purpose of driving, killing or taking. The Amendment would make an exception to the use of a mechanically-propelled boat only for the purpose of killing rock-doves. I would point out that under the Clause there is no objection to the use of a motor-boat to enable one to get into a position to shoot birds, but I am prepared to accept the Amendment.This will be dependent upon the House agreeing that the rock-dove should be included in the Second Schedule. There is, perhaps, a little doubt as to whether it should be in the Second Schedule or in the Third Schedule as a legitimate game bird, although my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands (Lord J. Hope) suggested only that it should be regarded as a pest. I have had a little experience of the sport in this case, and it is a very exciting and extremely difficult one with the boat heaving up and down and the birds coming out very far ahead. No harm will be done by accepting the Amendment.
I very much appreciate that the sponsors of the Amendment altered the first draft so that this provision would apply to Scotland only. I understand that the rock-dove is a very doubtful species in England and Wales. I should like to express my appreciation of what the sponsors of the Bill have done.
The rock-dove is a distinctly rare bird in the South of England, and it is extremely important that there it should not be treated like this but should be protected. We thus have the curious situation that one species needs to be shot in Scotland and requires protection in England. I am glad that the provision will apply to Scotland only. It would not do to have it in England.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 6, line 1, to leave out "or net."The object of the Amendment is to ensure that not too many rocket-nets shall be allowed for the taking of birds as a whole. At present, much useful work is done by those who net birds, particularly geese, for the purposes of scientific research. At the same time, it has to be admitted that when nets are used by unskilled hands a certain amount of damage and death is bound to be caused to these birds. The Amendment provides that the Home Secretary shall have to give a licence, or ensure that an appropriate body gives a licence, for the use of rocket-net apparatus. Should this apparatus become in common supply throughout the country, it might do a great deal of damage. It also causes a considerable disturbance on the foreshores. I believe it to be true to say, although it may be disputed, that rocket-netting has, in some instances, been the cause of frightening birds away from the area. I hope that my noble Friend will accept the principle of the Amendment even if the Amendment cannot be incorporated in its present form, in order to ensure that there shall be some safeguard against universal netting, which is against the practice in this country. In some countries quail are netted, and we do not approve of that. The same principle applies in this instance.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I cannot accept the Amendment as drafted because it is far too wide. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) asked me to consider the matter further to see whether it would be possible to do anything specifically about rocket-nets, and I will consider that point.One of the few people who really use rocket-nets, if not the only person, is Mr. Peter Scott. I asked his opinion about this, and he said that he would be in agreement if it were possible to secure a licence for him to operate his rocket-nets. He is satisfied that he would be given a licence for the purpose. I have a note from him about the taking of birds with rocket-nets. He says that the use of rocket-nets for catching geese has been criticised because of the disturbing effect which it is supposed to have on the geese and because it is thought that an unacceptable number of birds are killed or injured. As to the disturbing effect, the swish of the rockets appears to be regarded by the geese as a natural phenomenon such as a flash of lightning. Mr. Scott says that it has repeatedly been found that, after the rockets have been fired, the birds fly a few hundred yards and then try to settle again, even in the same field, and he says that geese are no more likely to abandon a field, let alone a whole feeding area, in consequence of the firing of rocket-nets than if they are fired at with a 12-bore gun from a ditch or hedge. Mr. Scott says that, after being ringed, the birds will settle with any large flock that they see, even if it is quite close to the place of capture, and, on joining the flock, they behave in the normal way. He also says that during 14 years 14,000 pink-footed geese have been ringed, and the casualties have numbered 106, or 75 per cent., and that the casualty rate, although attempts are continually made to reduce it, does not seem to be unduly high. I cannot accept the Amendment as it stands because it would prevent the use not only of rocket-nets but of any sort of trap consisting of nets which is not a cage-trap for catching any species of bird for ringing, and that goes much too far. Subsection (3, b) permits:
Various other net-traps are in use for catching birds for ringing, and, if the Amendment were accepted, they could only be used under licence granted under Clause 10. That is an unnecessary restriction, because the Bill exempts ringing from all restrictions, and many people take birds in cage-traps for this purpose without doing harm. If they had to obtain a licence from the Secretary of State before using nets, it would mean great discouragement and trouble and a large amount of administrative work to no useful purpose whatever. The House may be interested to know that, annually, in this country about 100,000 birds are ringed, and that, since 1909, one million birds have been so ringed."… the use of nets for the purpose of taking wild duck in a dude decoy which is shown to have been in use immediately before the passing of this Act. …"
It is extremely important that we should not interfere with the very important scientific work that is going on concerning the movement and breeding of birds. Before I came to this House, I myself did a bit of bird ringing and found it extremely interesting work, which I was able to help in a very humble way by collecting information. I am quite certain that no serious harm has been done by rocket netting in this country, though it may be true that, up in the Arctic, where rocket netting has been carried out among geese in the period before the birds get their feathers, there may have been some casualties. I am satisfied that no damage has been done in the area just outside my own constituency where the very important work of ringing by this method is carried out for us by Mr. Peter Scott. It is most important that this work should not be interfered with, and there is no evidence to support the view that it is doing any harm to birds in this country. What may be happening in the Arctic Circle, where similar methods are used, is possibly more questionable.
I should like to thank the noble Lady for what she has said, and to say that I accept the position as she has explained it, but I should like to add that, while it is very interesting to learn that a million birds have been ringed, it should be pointed out that only a very limited number were ringed through rocket netting. There are a number of people in this country, of whom I am one, who are rather nervous about increasing the practice of rocket netting, particularly during the breeding or moulting period, but in view of what my noble Friend has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 6—(Restrictions On Sale Of Live And Dead Wild Birds, Eggs, Etc)
Amendment made: In page 6, line 36, leave out from "that," to end of line 42, and insert:
"a person shall not be guilty of an offence by virtue of paragraph (b) of this subsection if the egg is shown to have been sold, offered for sale or in his possession for sale—
(i) in the case of an egg of a black-headed gull, greater black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull or common gull, for the purpose of human consumption or for use as food for poultry, ornamental ducks, ornamental geese or swans; (ii) in the case of an egg of a wild duck, wild goose or swan, for the purpose of causing the egg to be hatched."—[Lady Tweedsmuir.]
I beg to move, in page 7, line 5, to leave out from "constable," to "to," in line 7.I moved a similar Amendment during the Committee stage, and my arguments so impressed hon. Members that I was able to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment on receiving an assurance from the noble Lady that this question would be examined again before the Report stage. The position is that, as the Bill now stands, a justice of the peace
and I would emphasise those words—"may grant a warrant to any constable or, in England or Wales, to any duly authorised officer of the council of the county or county borough in which those premises are situated to enter upon and search "—
My experience as a local government officer of a county council leads me to think that there is really no suitable officer of a county council who would have had experience of this type of case. It may be thought that the shops inspector would be a suitable official, but I suggest that a shops inspector merely enters a shop to see whether certain regulations are being fulfilled. He does not do so to search, in the sense that we mean here, for an object which the owner of the premises ought not to possess. We are very jealous, in this House, of the powers which we must, necessarily, give from time to time to officers of local authorities and public corporations. I suggest that police constables and the police generally are trained and skilled in this matter of searching, and that it would, therefore, be sufficient to confer the powers given under the Bill on the police. If it be said that police constables would not have the necessary knowledge to be able to identify the kind of thing for which they were searching, at any rate, there would be an expert adviser to whom they could bring the object for his opinion. We ought to be extremely careful in granting any rights to enter upon and search premises, and, in those circumstances, I hope it will be possible for the noble Lady to accept the Amendment."those premises for the purpose of obtaining that evidence."
I beg to second the Amendment.We are all anxious that the Bill shall contain powers to ensure that whatever good purposes it seeks to achieve shall be carried out, but we expressed the view in Committee that one of the most distasteful powers which this House can give at any time is the right of searching an Englishman's home, which is his castle, beyond the rights which we give to the police authorities. We were assured by the noble Lady in Committee that she would look into this point again, and I sincerely hope that she will now be able to accept the Amendment.
As the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) has said, I did undertake to look into this matter very fully, and I have consulted the various people who might be asked to undertake this power of search. I am very glad to be able to accept this Amendment, but I should like to tell the House the reasons which caused me to come to this decision.It is quite true that arguments were put from the other side in Committee suggesting that county councils and county borough councils should have these powers if they are to carry out the provisions of this Bill, and it is reasonable that their officers should be able to apply for search warrants in appropriate cases. It is also desirable to encourage local authorities to take an interest in the law affecting the protection of birds. The two hon. Members who have spoken have put the other side of the case very fairly, but I wish to say that I have been in touch with the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I have discovered that the views of these two bodies differ. The County Councils' Association does not consider it necessary to give officers of county councils the power to apply for search warrants, because, in practice, the police would be asked to do so, but the Association of Municipal Corporations, on the contrary, think that this power would be useful, because they say that their shops inspectors, in undertaking the duties under the Pet Animals Act, 1951, might become aware of breaches of this Act, in which case they would want to apply for search warrants. The Association also said they thought that sanitary inspectors might also come upon cases. I felt that there was not enough evidence and that, on balance, it certainly is preferable that power of search should not be given to people other than the police unless there are exceptional circumstances. Moreover, it is most unlikely that we shall need to call in anybody but the police to take action under Clause 6. I am very glad to accept the Amendment.
In view of the concession which the noble Lady has made— and I am very grateful to her for accepting the Amendment—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
The Amendment has been accepted. There is no need for the hon. Member to ask leave to withdraw it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 9—(Power To Vary Schedules By Order)
I beg to move, in page 8, line 25, at the end, to insert:
Subsection (1) of this Clause enables the Secretary of State to add to or remove from the first four Schedules any wild bird. Subsection (2) enables him to prescribe a close season in regard to any wild bird so added. The close season so prescribed may be as short as the Secretary of State feels necessary, but that provision is illogical in view of the provisions of Clause 2 (6), part of which prevents the Secretary of State from prescribing a close season for birds in the Third Schedule shorter than is laid down in the Clause. The Amendment proposes to put this right by saying that the close season in Clause 9 (2) must extend from 21st February to 31st August, which is the shortest season prescribed in Clause 2.Provided that any close season so prescribed shall commence on a date not later than the twenty-first day of February and end on a date not earlier than the thirty-first day of August.
Amendment agreed to.
First Schedule—(Wild Birds And Their Eggs Protected By Special Penalties)
I beg to move, in page 14, line 13, after "Corncrake (landrail)," to insert:
I raised this matter in the Committee, and the noble Lady was kind enough to say that she accepted the principle. After discussion, it was clear that while it is desirable to put the common crossbill into the First Schedule and to give it the fullest possible protection in England, where it is rare but has prospects of extending if protected from the egg collectors who are frequently after it, that is not the case in Scotland. I hope that the Amendment will be acceptable to the noble Lady, as it deals with the situation both in Scotland and in England and Wales in order to give protection to the bird in the area where it most needs it."Crossbill, common (in England and Wales only)."
I beg to second the Amendment.
I shall be very glad to accept this Amendment. I know the hon. Gentleman's view of the First Schedule, which is intended to give occasional and temporary breeders a chance to establish themselves as breeders in this country. The common crossbill is in this category in England, but in Scotland it is well established.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 14, line 14, after "Roller," to insert "Ruff and Reeve."The ruff and reeve are beautiful birds which once nested in this country, and may do so again. I moved a similar Amendment in the Committee, when the noble Lady very kindly offered to consider the question before the Report stage. That is the reason why I have put down the Amendment. I have a very great affection for these birds, particularly as many years ago I read about their interesting habits in Julian Huxley's "Essays of a Biologist."
I beg to second the Amendment.
I shall be very glad to accept the Amendment. In the First Schedule the ruff and reeve are rightly included, because they are potential breeders. The main purpose of the special penalties for birds in the First Schedule is to ensure that birds in this category have a chance to establish themselves as regular breeders. The ruff and reeve are rather scarce. They are protected throughout the year by 37 counties in England and Wales, and by only one county in Scotland. The Amendment would give them assistance, and make the Bill consistent with waders having been taken out of the Third Schedule.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 14, line 32, leave out "Ruff and Reeve."—[ Mr. Hayman.]
Second Schedule—(Wild Birds Which May Be Killed Or Taken At Any Time By Authorised Persons)
I beg to move, in page 15, line 4, at the beginning, to insert "Coot."I have no deep feeling about this matter. The coot certainly does a considerable amount of damage to fishing interests. It is also a gross feeder. It bullies the young of duck and other small waterside birds. It is felt that it might be useful in certain circumstances to put it into the list of harmful birds.
I do not wish to divide the House on this Amendment, but I feel that sufficient reasons have not been advanced for adding more birds to the black list. This matter was very fully gone into by the Committee. After all, the Second Schedule black list can be added to for any area where birds are alleged to be doing harm. Clause 4 (2, a) also allows anyone to kill birds which are doing harm to various forms of property, including the sort of property that has just been spoken of. I would like an explanation from the noble Lady. I could mention many other birds more harmful than the coot or the moorhen.
On a point of order. Are we not only discussing the coot? The hon. Member is referring to the moorhen.
What I said applies with equal force to the coot. I shall make a reference to the other bird on a later Amendment. There are plenty of alternative powers for dealing with this bird if and when they do damage. We shall have difficulty if we are to add birds to the black list because they sometimes do harm. We shall not know where to stop. So I cannot see why we should suddenly insert the coot at this stage.
I should like to give one example of when it is necessary to shoot coot out of season. Only last week I was asked by the Middlesex Agricultural Committee to help to shoot coot on Staines Reservoir.There is no doubt that the coot, when in considerable numbers, can do a great deal of harm to neighbouring crops, and I think that the coot should be added to the Schedule.
I did not think that I should live to be in agreement with the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) in this House. We discussed the proscribed list in great detail in Committee; and that was the unhappiest part of the Bill, in the opinion of some of us, because it contained things that should not be there. The chance to indict the British bird surely was in Committee, and I hope that on this stage we are not going to add to the black list of birds.
Those who really love the variety of birds must remember that where gross feeders collect the attraction for the selective feeders is not to be found. The coot is an example of a gross feeder. We divide waterfowl into gross and selective feeders. The former devour the special foods of the latter and prevent their being any attraction for the smaller fowl to join them. For example, the sheldrake prevents the mallard, and the mallard in large numbers is not joined by the teal, shovellers or even the pintail or the widgeon.
I have found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) more than once during the passage of this Bill through the House, and I am very grateful to him for the stand which he has taken on several occasions.I should like to emphasise the point which he has made this morning that powers already exist under Clause 4 (2, a) for dealing with this bird if it is doing serious damage
I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) that some of us have thought that perhaps the coot was put down for inclusion in the Second Schedule because the moorhen has wandered into that Schedule, and that it would be difficult to define between the moorhen and the coot. Having said that, I do not propose to divide the House."to crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries."
I waited to speak until now because I was rather undecided about this matter, which is very difficult. The bird is already in the Third Schedule. My own feeling, after listening to the discussion, is that I think that it is perhaps best to leave it in the Third Schedule. I say this because, in reference to the views put forward as to damage to crops, I consulted the Ministry of Agriculture, and they have said that they do not themselves ask for this bird to be included in the Second Schedule. They thought that it would be quite all right to use the powers under Clause 4 (2, a), whereby the bird can be proscribed in local areas, and I think that would be the most reasonable compromise.
I hope that the statement of the Ministry of Agriculture will mean that if anyone asks for a permit he will get it under six months. In view of what the hon. Lady has said so well, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 15, line 4, after "Magpie," to insert "Moorhen."I want to make it perfectly clear that the moorhen and the coot are totally different birds. For example, the coot is a gregarious bird. It exists in large herds—I think that is the right word—on open waters, whereas the moorhen is generally in pairs or small families and lives on practically every pond throughout the country; it is far more widely distributed. I have watched them for many years, and I have come to the conclusion that moorhens, which look very innocent, are really very wicked little birds. They do a great deal of harm. They take small fish and fish spawn, they eat the food put out for ornamental water fowl and poultry, and they are not above attacking other birds. I am supported by the highest legal opinion on this matter because, originally, in another place and in another Bill, which I must not talk about, the moorhen was not included in a list of birds to be killed throughout the year. It was not included in the original Bill, but it was moved in another place that it should be included, and that was done by the promoter of the Bill in Committee. What we are really asking to be done is for the moorhen to be moved from the Third Schedule to the Second Schedule, which means that it would be possible, either by shooting or taking their eggs, to keep these birds under reasonable control throughout the year. One will not have to wait for six months before one is to take action to keep their numbers under control. I know that one can apply for a special permit, but that takes a great deal of time, and by the end of that time the damage will be done and be irretrievable.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think I shall now give the hon. Member for Test (Dr. King) the opportunity of repeating his rare agreement with me, because I cannot myself see that anything that has just been said should divert us from what our attitude ought to be towards the moorhen, as well as the coot.I have said that Clause 4 (2, a) gives power to destroy if they are doing damage. This therefore is not a matter of whether a bird shall be totally protected or not, because it is already in the Third Schedule, but simply whether it should be killed during the nesting season. I should not have thought that this bird was so damaging to agricultural interests that it ought to be put in the black list category in the same way as the carrion crow. I am supported in my view by the fact that I think the Ministry of Agriculture take much the same view in regard to the moorhen as they take to the coot, and they are not pressing for this bird to be included in the Second Schedule. I hope, therefore, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not press this Amendment.
My quip just now may have appeared discourteous. I and the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) have agreed on many things in Committee on this Bill. Our disagreements are outside what we are discussing this morning. I hope that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) at this late stage will dig her heels in and refuse this request.
I should like to defend this bird against the charge of taking food which had been put down for other birds. It is much too discriminatory to condemn the bird on that account because food put down is common property and one cannot complain because of a bird's superior intelligence.
I strongly support all that has been said on behalf of this Amendment. I have rather a weakness for the moorhen but not for the coot, which I think a singularly unattractive bird. The moorhen does not do much damage. Even though it takes food which other birds might otherwise take, that is no good reason for removing it from the Third Schedule and putting it in the Second Schedule. It is an attractive bird. During the shooting season it can offer a certain amount of sport for young sportsmen who are learning to shoot, but to put the bird in the class of really destructive birds is utterly absurd.
I should like to say a few words in defence of the moorhen. I know of no more delightful bird on the water. Undoubtedly, it gives greater pleasure to children when they are watching birds on the water than any other. They watch it feeding and they are delighted with its movements and the young birds particularly are a source of never ending pleasure for children in the neighbourhood of the waters. It is true that everybody's character can be blackened if people only take the trouble to suggest that they over-eat a little or that they eat something that someone else would like.Children might learn from the moorhen not to be too greedy, like the small boy who would like a particular cake and complains because his sister has got it, for the reason that he has food in his mouth and has not been able to get it down fast enough to get at the cake first. I hope that we shall not include this particularly delightful, attractive and, on the whole, quite harmless little bird in the category of destructive birds.
I think that the sense of the House is against the Amendment. It is true also that the Ministry of Agriculture think that the moorhen has plenty of protection under powers granted in Clause 4 (2, a). It may interest hon. Members to know that a scientific examination of the contents of the moorhen's stomach produced certain kinds of snails including, it is said, the snail that causes liver rot in sheep, and for that purely practical reason it might be better to leave the moorhen in the Third Schedule.
It is with regret that I see that the moorhen has deceived my colleagues on both sides of the House. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In page 15, line 6, after "only," insert:
"Rock-dove (in Scotland only)."—[Mr. J. Morrison.]
Third Schedule—(Wild Birds Which May Be Killed Or Taken Outside The Close Season)
I beg to move, in page 15, line 20, to leave out "curlew (other than stone curlew)."I hope that the curlew also will meet with the favour of the House. It is a bird which adds greatly to the beauty of our moorlands both in the North of England and in Scotland. It provides poor sport. I think I have shot only one, when I was very small, and I trust that the curlew will be protected, as my Amendment suggests. This bird also has a considerable claim to destroying the parasite which causes liver fluke among sheep, and probably its merits are even greater than those of the moorhen in this respect because the liver fluke is more apt to occur in high country where the moorhen does not normally find its habitat. I hope, therefore, that without much demur the House will do me the honour of accepting the Amendment.
I beg to second the Amendment.Some birds are particularly attractive to watch as well as to listen to and the curlew falls into that class. It is becoming more and more common as a nesting species in this country and every year nests at a little lower altitude. The reappearance of a curlew and its delightful spring notes is one of the most attractive features of the year's run. As has been said, it is a poor bird for sport and, to my knowledge, I have never eaten it. I understand that it was widely eaten in the Middle Ages and I suppose that it disappeared from the menu because it was not very attractive. If we take the bird out of the Third Schedule, therefore, we should not deprive anybody of any great delicacy. I hope that the Amendment will be supported. The bird does not look innocent, but no one should be deceived by that. I am sure that it will be appreciated, also, that it does not take the food of other birds.
Here is a last-minute opportunity of saving a bird from the Third Schedule and I hope that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South will accept the very attractive case which has been put forward on behalf of the Amendment. The case for the defence is always more pleasing to carry out and to listen to than the case for the prosecution, but this morning we had in the noble Lady's own speech proof of the value of the poem which I quoted on Second Reading, which shows that if one upsets the balance of Nature to do things for one purpose, one may be doing much more harm in some other way. The noble Lady's own argument has been used against her in pleading for the curlew as a protection for sheep.
I should like to support the Amendment. I do not believe that without the introduction of this bird into the Third Schedule anyone would think of shooting the curlew and the idea is not one that should be encouraged. I put forward another, sentimental, reason that the opinion used to be held in many parts of the country that the curlews represented the bodies of those lost at sea. For that reason alone we should respect the birds.
I have listened with very great interest to the debate on this Amendment. I should declare my interest in that the curlew is my second favourite bird. The first is the oyster catcher. I said earlier that I wished to listen to the argument first. I am glad that a plea for the curlew has been put forward by those who take great interest in shooting, because up to date it has been regarded as a legitimate sporting bird. I did not wish to press my personal views on the House but, if I judge it correctly, the sense of the House is that the name of the curlew should be deleted from this Schedule and that it should be given the general protection of the Bill.If that is so, it is important that steps should be taken in another place to remove the whimbrel from the second to the first part of the First Schedule. It is difficult to distinguish between the whimbrel and the curlew. It would be most illogical to protect the curlew and not the whimbrel, which is much less common. In view of the general feeling of the House and of my own personal feelings, I have great pleasure in accepting the Amendment.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, as I am sure will be hundreds of thousands of people, for accepting the Amendment. I was responsible in Committee for an Amendment which, had it been accepted, would have moved the whimbrel from Part II of the First Schedule into Part I. I am extremely glad that we shall now achieve that objective by another method. Hon. Members may be interested to know that the call of the curlew ushers in one of the Nature talks which is broadcast over the West Region wavelength, and that it has given pleasure for many years.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."I should like to take this opportunity of thanking hon. Members in all parts of the House who have given a great deal of care, time and attention in order to speed this Bill to another place. I should like to take the opportunity, too, of dealing with a question which was put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), who is not in his place at the moment. My hon. Friend asked me specifically whether I could confirm the figures which I gave in Committee for punt guns used in connection with the brent goose. Those figures were given to me at the time by Mr. Peter Scott, and I accepted them as they were given to me. Since the Committee stage I have made further inquiries and I have found that they were given to Mr. Scott by Mr. Christopher Dalgety. They were part of the official inquiry being made by the Wildfowl Inquiry Committee which was conducted under terms of secrecy. I therefore submit that it would be a breach of faith to reveal the names of those who took part in using those punt guns, even though it is six years ago. Mr. Peter Scott says of Mr. Dalgety: "He is perfectly trustworthy and a responsible chap." That is all I can say. I do not know the gentleman personally. I have most carefully checked again the other figures given in connection with the brent goose population, and they are correct. Perhaps I may point out, where there is any dispute between figures for any of our populations, particularly where they concern geese, that it is very difficult to get accurate figures, on either side, among wildfowl. Where there is a doubt, however, I submit to the House that it is in the interests of everyone concerned, not least of those who are sportsmen, at any rate to take the more careful view. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will take this opportunity to give an assurance that the position with the brent goose will be reviewed in between three and five years' time. Our responsibility in this country towards other countries and towards the whole question of international bird preservation is such that, where we have a dispute, it is wiser to take the more careful view for an experimental period of a few years. If the protection given shows without doubt that the numbers of the species in question have increased, then, of course, shooting can be allowed again. I am sure that we all regret the absence from our debates today of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish). As hon. Members know, he was the seconder of the Bill. My hon. and gallant Friend has had a very serious illness. He is getting better, and I feel quite sure that it will be cheering news to him to hear that this Bill is being sent to another place, for he has had it very much at heart. Without doubt, no one can be entirely content with this Measure in its final form, as it leaves the House. Perhaps all of us are at heart perfectionists, but in a Bill which covers so many interests we have, both inside Parliament and outside, to give and take. Let us hope, therefore, that those who study the Bill in another place will feel that in essence it is a great advance in the whole subject of bird protection. It can be the foundation of this country's work for at least a generation. We have laid down in the Bill firm, broad principles which are clear to understand and clear to enforce. Within that framework, we have made the Bill flexible enough to ensure that, as customs alter and as our wild life changes, no amending Bill need be brought before Parliament every year. The powers to vary orders within certain limits throughout the country will ensure the principle that bird protection is a matter of unprejudiced and sensible adjustment year by year. I very much hope that the Bill will pass through another place without undue amendment so that we may consider it here again in general agreement. Should it become law, it will be our task to do all in our power to ensure that it is upheld by common consent so that, as the years go on, Britain will keep her lead in bird protection.
I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.The Bill will be a very important landmark in the history of bird protection in this country and possibly in Europe. Such a Bill is badly needed to bring bird protection legislation up to date, because that legislation was becoming old and inefficient and it was time something was done about it. The British people are naturally and instinctively very fond of animals and birds. In fact, a foreigner—I think he was a Dutchman—once wrote a book entitled "The British—Are They Human?" He proceeded to argue in the book that the British people sympathised more with animals than perhaps with anything else. That, of course, is a gross exaggeration, but there is a certain element of truth in it, for we as a nation are very sympathetic in connection with the suffering of animals and are very desirous of protecting the weaker of God's creations over which we have power. That is why I think we were the first to introduce legislation protecting birds. As a nation, we are, I think, particularly emotional about birds, yet emotion should not be the sole motive of legislation of this kind. We must be practical as well, and that is where I think this Bill has succeeded, particularly because the noble Lady who sponsors this Bill has had such an ability and such a sense of fairness all round that she has done much to reconcile all the conflicting interests which are involved in legislation of this kind. It is the emotional desire, first of all, in our people to protect these weaker creations and then, of course there is the scientific side of the work of getting to know more about the lower forms of animal life, if indeed they are lower. That is an aspect in which I am particularly interested. Then there is the sporting aspect. As one who has loved sport all my life I see the necessity for that side to be considered. Finally I think we have gone some way to satisfying those who regard wild life as a means of getting a living around our coasts. They, too, have certain rights which, as far as it is possible to work them in with the others, we should like to protect. Thus we provide more flexible legislation because we are giving powers to the Home Secretary to vary the periods of protection. Then there are our international obligations. We cannot regard this as a solely British question because many birds migrate and the study of bird migration is developing. We are getting increasing information as to the why and wherefore of the habits and movements of birds at various periods of the year. It is important to try to set a standard of bird protection through Europe and perhaps outside. We have led the way, but other countries too are interested in this matter in Northern Europe, such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Russia, where the interest in and love of birds is almost as strong as it is here. I wish I could say the same about Southern Europe, but the Latin countries are less so. Not long ago when travelling from Athens to Eleusis I saw large numbers of people on a Saturday afternoon shooting larks in order to take them home for eating. Much of the scientific work in connection with the movement of cranes, such as ringing them and marking their wings, so that they can be distinguished in their passage to East Africa, is interfered with when those birds cross some of the countries in Southern Europe where they get shot. In conclusion, may I congratulate the noble Lady on her work and the great ability with which she has led the discussions on the Bill. I end on a personal note, if I may. When my father was a Member of this House in the late 70's and early 80's and sat for a constituency, part of which is now the constituency of Mr. Speaker in Gloucestershire, he supported and helped the passage of the first Wild Birds Protection Bill. Therefore, I feel it especially an honour to be able to take a humble part in the passage of this most important Bill on to the Statute Book.
May I first congratulate the noble Lady on the intense application and study which she has put into this Bill? It must have taken her a great time to deal with the correspondence alone. May I also congratulate her on the capability, and, if I may say so, the charm with which she has piloted the Bill through the House? We have been fortunate in having it entrusted to someone who has so much natural knowledge of the subject and a country background.I also want to congratulate the noble Lady on the fairness with which she has held the balance between the somewhat complicated interests in birds. Apart from being the mover of some Amendments that have been accepted, I feel that she has been wise to accept some of the advice given to her during the passage of the Bill, because some of the suggestions originating from farmers, sportsmen, wildfowlers and country folk generally are valuable. It must be realised that this Bill, which we hope will shortly become a code of law, is in reality much more a code of conduct. I say that because those who will ultimately be responsible for obeying it will have little fear of the police constable round the corner seeing what they may do. They will have little fear of being informed on because most of them are working alone or shooting alone, and in open country, particularly in the early mornings, there is not much risk of being observed. Therefore, the result of any mistake they make, whether unwittingly or of malice aforethought, is easily concealed in the nearest rabbit hole. Therefore, a man's conscience will be the real policeman in applying this Bill, and therefore it has to be a code of behaviour that he wild accept readily, Instead of feeling that it has been imposed on him and is depriving him of something of which he should not be deprived and, particularly, of something which he believed he had been promised. That was the position of the wild-fowlers, and that is why I think the noble Lady was wise in meeting them over the question of the February foreshore shooting. I see no reason why this Bill should not become a good code of sporting ethics, accepted and obeyed because people feel it is the right thing to do and not only because it is law. It is fair to say that nearly all sportsmen are naturalists at heart and therefore have an interest in it, and that many of them spend much more time in preserving birds than shooting them. For example far more time is spent by a keeper in preserving his birds than in helping people to kill them, although it is true that it may be necessary in the interests of those birds to kill some others. As this Bill seeks to preserve birds, our interests are the same although there is a difference between us about which birds should be preserved and which should be killed. With a final word of congratulation to the noble Lady, I wish the Bill goodwill in another place.
Now it seems clear that any few remarks I may make will not delay the passage of this Bill I want to congratulate the noble Lady on the way she has conducted it through all its stages. I am neither a sportsman nor an ornithologist but merely a lover of the country. I know how much my affection for it is wrapped up in the birds I watch when I potter round the garden and go for walks. We in this country are blessed with a large and varied assortment of birds, and I think that this Bill will help to preserve and, I hope, increase the number that nest in this country.Within my memory the study of birds has undergone a very great change. When I was a boy I used to see them shot and stuffed and their eggs collected, but now, fortunately, we are much more concerned with how these birds live, and bird watching is increasingly indulged in by all sorts of people—not only by the more highly educated people and specialists, but, I am glad to say, by others as well. It is astonishing how many details of the life of birds are not included in the text books. There is a lot about their life history that is not known and which can be found out not by shooting but by observing, ringing and study. There is a lot that we do not know about their habits and there is even more that we do not know about the reasons for these habits. It is only in recent times that we have come to realise that birds do not sing entirely for our amusement but that this has other and more mundane purposes as well. We have a great deal to learn about the habits of birds and the reasons for those habits. Probably, like our own habits, some are the remains of customs the reasons for which have long since been forgotten. There is a lot to learn from the study of birds, and because this Bill will facilitate that study and encourage greater interest in the countryside, I wish to add my thanks to the noble Lady for introducing the Bill and to extend my congratulations to her on the fact that there is now every prospect that it will become law.
I should like to add my words of gratitude, which I am sure the whole House feels, to my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for the great work which she has put into this remarkable Bill and for the charm with which throughout she has conducted the proceedings.Unfortunately, it is my lot to raise a critical point, and it relates to the question of the domestic pigeon gone feral. I do not know whether one should pronounce it "feral" or "feral." It is the sort of word that one reads more than one says, but I am told that "feral" is the correct pronunciation. A very large number of people in this country are pigeon fanciers. I am told that there are at least 100,000 persons registered with the National Pigeon Group. I also understand that nearly 300,000 persons possess carrier pigeons. I know that the whole House is aware of the use to which these birds were put in time of war. I shall have great pleasure after this debate in presenting to the Library copies of this excellent volume which I hold in my hand, "Pigeons in World War II". I have had considerable experience of pigeons in the war. They frequently carried rude messages, but they frequently also got through when the wireless failed to do so.
Did the hon. Gentleman send rude ones back?
In this book to which I have referred there is a remarkable record of pigeons from the military point of view. They never once showed the white feather. More important at the moment is the interest of the hundreds of thousands of people in these birds. As hon. Members from the North of England know, once a week a train goes South from Newcastle, I believe, with 30 vans loaded with pigeons for release.
And horse boxes.
Well, they are hardly birds. Hon. Members will also know that nearly £500,000 is distributed annually in prize money for these pigeons. In addition, throughout the country, from Her Majesty the Queen downward, there are many people who have lofts, and indeed I am told by the experts that investment in this activity is something in the region of £5 million in lofts and birds.The value of these birds is considerable. Lately a gentleman paid £500 for one of these birds which was destined for the island of St. Helena, which I hope is no reflection on the communications of the Colonial Office. The interest and the innocent pleasure which these birds provide for thousands of people is undoubted. What this Bill unfortunately does is to make a distinction which is unnatural to common law. As hon. Members are aware, in common law all animals are either domesticated or feral; that is to say, they are either tame or wild. The problem is that this Bill raises a new issue—the issue of a pigeon being able to be, from the point of view of legal status, both wild and tame, not as a matter of fact but as a matter of law. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) will listen, because this point is important to 3,000 or 4,000 people in this country. When a pigeon flies over, anyone in this House who may be out pigeon shooting or pigeon scaring, and who is familiar with the law on the subject, will not shoot that pigeon, in all probability, because it is protected by the Larceny Act, 1861, Section 23. That Section means that if a carrier or domestic pigeon is wilfully shot by any person, automatically a fine of £2 is imposed, plus the value of the pigeon. As has been said, this is a matter more of building up a sense of custom and of conscience in the ordinary sportsman. As the law stands, he is aware of this danger if he shoots a pigeon. In fact, as late as 1948 in a notable case fines of over £200 were imposed upon a person who shot carrier pigeons on the ground that he thought they were wood pigeons. Moreover, in the court of appeal damages of £200 were awarded against him.
I have read the description, after seeing the Amendment. One point I could not understand was
Can my hon. Friend say what those words mean, as I could not see the sense of them?"under such circumstances as shall not amount to larceny at common law."
The point is quite simple. If one intentionally commits a larceny against the dovecotes or possessions of a pigeon fancier, one is subject to imprisonment. This is to protect the pigeon in flight. Section 23 of the Act of 1861 is an admirable Section. Unfortunately, as things are, there is danger, if this legislation goes forward, of reverting to the law of the 17th century when pigeons were not protected.This point was put forward originally by the noble Lord, Lord Templewood, in another place. I hope that when this Bill goes to another place the noble Lord will see that it is put right. It is not just a matter of birds but of the human interest of thousands of people in this country. We have had the peers against various persons; the last thing we want is to start a row between the peers and the pigeons. I believe this can be put right and, if my Amendment had been acceptable, it would have been put right. I cannot emphasise sufficiently strongly that at the moment, owing to this new legal premise of birds having a twin legal status either as domesticated pigeons or pigeons gone feral, the basis of the law is changed against the pigeon fancier. As it is the onus of proof in the case of the farmer whose crops are damaged by such pigeons is on the killer, but, under this Measure, the onus will have to be on the owner to prove that his pigeon was domesticated. At the moment the onus is on the killer to prove that he did rightly in protecting his crops in the same way as one does rightly in protecting one's sheep from a dog which has gone wild. But there is no such category, in law, as a wild dog, only a dog which is proved by the person bringing the case to have gone wild. This law creates a special category of pigeons which are declared to have gone wild and there is no proof necessary in the case of the 1861 Act that they have gone wild. I hope that when the Bill goes to another place suitable Amendments will be put in to see that the words "authorised person" are more closely defined and to see that a pigeon gone feral is not the subject of controversy, either in the courts, or in the conscience or mind of a person. I realise that there is a need for some change in the law regarding domestic pigeons gone native. That is not a question of killing pigeons but netting pigeons, usually in collaboration with the local pigeon homing society. This raises a very vital issue for hundreds of thousands of people. These birds fly huge distances in races such as the Bordeaux Race, the race from Rennes to Scotland, and the English National. Various cups are presented, such as that which was given by his late Majesty King George V and immense interest is taken throughout the country, especially—for some reason—in mining areas. In Staffordshire a great many of my friends keep pigeons and I have often seen the lovely sight of pigeons being released and going off in a cloud of glory against the sun. Until a few years ago pigeons used to be released from Palace Yard. This is a considerable industry which gives great pleasure to thousands of people. These things should be put right and the Act of 1861, which protects the pigeon and pigeon fancier, should be reiterated and made firm in English law.
All of us will congratulate the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) on securing the passage of this Bill. I wish to pay my personal tribute to her capable pilotage of the Bill through the tortuous channels of Committee and the open seas of Report stage.I am sure the Bill will be welcomed by the whole nation. We are giving a lead here which will be of great advantage to those who succeed us. We are really indebted—this is no formal statement—for the helpful and conciliatory way in which the noble Lady dealt with all the Amendments, from whatever quarter they came. We ail regret the absence of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) and wish him well on his road to recovery. If we get the Third Reading of the Bill he will be immensely gratified and it will, perhaps, be a spur towards his quicker recovery. I make no apology for the personal note I have introduced in the course of the proceedings on the Bill, upstairs and downstairs. It is because the love of birds of the countryside, of the cliffs and of the shore, has been an abiding interest of my wife and myself for very many years. I must confess that there were times during the passage of the Bill when I felt very depressed. Sometimes, perhaps cynically, one felt that the Title should be amended to read "Slaughter of Birds Bill, or the Wildfowlers' Charter." I am glad that that feeling has been swept away this morning and for the rest of my life I shall carry with me a very keen and grateful memory of our procedings here today. I am sure that the good will shown on both sides of the House has helped to put this Bill well on the way to the Statute Book. I say this for the benefit of wildfowling societies. I am quite sure that if the main principles of the Bill were put before the nation in a plebescite, they would be overwhelmingly carried because, in the main, they meet the general feelings of the whole community. As was said earlier, we are now bird conscious and more bird conscious than ever before. I have had only one letter on this subject from the whole of Devon and Cornwall, although I have taken a lively interest in the Bill and a fair part in its debates. That letter suggested that the Bill ought to be turned down because we were helping to continue bird sanctuaries. The writer felt that bird sanctuaries ought to be abolished because they interfered with wildfowling. I wish to pay tribute to the officers of the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society. I told the House on Second Reading that I had no claim to be an ornithologist. I am simply a bird lover and a bird watcher. We are all glad that the Bill has reached the Third Reading stage in its present form. I hope that it will get to the Statute Book, that it will always be respected, and that it will bring great benefit to bird life and will add to the enjoyment of millions of our people.
I, also, wish to pay my tribute to the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), who has done a very good job in respect of this Bill, although I must say that I do not agree with every one of its provisions. It is always necessary to remember that if we want the provisions of a Bill of this character to work, wild-fowlers and other people who shoot must feel that they are just, because, otherwise, it is quite impossible to compel adherence to the law. In large measure that depends on the consciences of people.Reference has been made to pigeons. Without going very deeply into the question of pigeon shooting, I would point out that it is sometimes very difficult when out shooting, because of the brilliance of the sun and for other reasons, to judge between a feral pigeon and others. I am going to make a confession of the most awful thing I ever did when out shooting. On the occasion in question, I had rather a pretty girl with me, which is always a mistake when one is out shooting. After walking over field after field with nothing to shoot at, I suddenly heard something. I looked up and saw a pigeon. It seemed to be rather nearer than a wood pigeon would normally be. I raised my gun and knocked it down. Then to my horror I found that three pigeons had been going over. One was white, one was black and the one that I got was of the ordinary pigeon colour. It happened to be the tame tumbler of the keeper's boy. That only shows how difficult it sometimes is to distinguish between different types of pigeons. To return to the Bill, I am rather worried about 31st August or 1st September being the opening day for shooting wild duck. I entirely agree that there should be a close season, but wild duck are in a condition to fly, and to fly well, during the month of August. There is the danger that unless certain action is taken in another place the promoters of this Bill may cause a good deal of disappointment to the small wildfowler who takes his holiday in August. It is not true that inland wild duck cannot fly during the month of August. Many people have only a very limited amount of free time in which to enjoy this sport, and if 31st August or 1st September is adhered to, it will mean that such people will be deprived of the opportunity of shooting inland wild duck. I should have thought that 12th August would have been about the right date in this connection. Wild duck are certainly good to eat in August, and it is really the one month in the year when one can eat them with green peas that do not come out of the "fridge." During the latter part of August, the birds are strong and can fly well, and in many cases holidays end at the end of August. Then there is the question of the farmer, particularly the farmer in the North. Harvest time in the North does not begin until fairly late in August. A farmer who is about to harvest his crop of oats or barley must be in a position to deal with wild duck which come in shortly before and are making a mess of his crops. It is no good providing exemptions for this or that. The fanner wants to be able to deal with the matter straightaway, because, by the time he has got the necessary exemption, the damage will have been done. It might be said that in these circumstances the farmer should take a chance and that, may be, he will not be prosecuted. But by the time that the average farmer had put himself right with the law it would be too late, and if he did not put himself right with the law he would be taking a chance which, in most cases, he would prefer not to take. That is why I feel it is rather a pity—I put it no higher than that—that as the Bill stands wild duck cannot reasonably be shot during the last 12 days of August. I do not propose to make a long speech, particularly as I was not a Member of the Standing Committee which dealt with the Committee stage of the Bill. There is always the danger that if one has not been present during the Committee stage, one is apt to feel rather clever in saying things which have already been said by others over and over again.
The hon. Gentleman can provide the answers.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in such circumstances one can sometimes supply the answers.I rather regret the complete protection for the little owl. I would draw the attention of the noble Lady to the fact that where the little owl is doing damage on sporting estates it will, I am afraid, be shot, irrespective of the provisions in this Bill. A person who is had up for shooting a little owl can always say, "I am very sorry, but I got it in the sun and thought it was a woodcock." It is the bird which I dislike the most. People have been talking about their favourite birds, and I do not mind confessing that, though I most dislike the little owl, having seen the noble Lady dealing with this Bill, I like the little duck the best. We are all glad that a Measure of this character has been introduced. There have been some minor disagreements, but hon. Members on both sides of the House are interested not only in the protection of birds, but in trying to combine the protection of rare birds with a reasonable opportunity for sportsmen to have the exercise and the open-air entertainment of shooting with the least degree of cruelty that can be achieved. I hope that one or two slight alterations will be made when the Bill goes to another place, but, taking it by and large, I think that we can all, on whichever side of the House we sit, compliment the noble Lady on having done a good job. She has made a new mark, and perhaps an honourable mark, on the history of this country.
It would be a pity if ever the tradition were established that only Members of a Committee should intervene in debates on Report and Third Reading, even though the intervention of the hon. Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) seems to indicate that he will be the first casualty under the Bill, because he threatens to break the law which we are setting up today, and that may necessitate a by-election in his constituency.My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said that there were moments when he thought with bitterness that this Bill was a wild-fowler's charter. I can assure him, if he needs such an assurance, that the wildfowlers of England, judging from their correspondence, by no means regard this Bill as their charter. If wildfowlers rarely write to Members of Parliament, they make up for it when they do by the length of their letters. I am not one of them, but I think that the wildfowlers have played the game throughout the negotiations and arguments which have taken place. This is a praiseworthy Bill. It represents a compromise of interests. It seeks to protect some birds which ought to be protected and to proscribe other birds, most of which—all but one—ought to be proscribed. Wherever it was thought that there was any doubt the benefit of the doubt has been given to the doubtful bird. I am happy that two of them have slipped through the net this morning, but I am sorry that the sparrow still remains on the list of outlaws. When it becomes law this Bill will prevent a lot of cruelty. I hope it will be followed up in the schools by education in the principles contained in this Measure and in the knowledge which must be imparted to children in order that they will carry out what we hope to achieve by this Bill. I hope, also, that the sporting associations of the country will follow it up. The most dramatic moment during the Committee stage was when the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) described the fate of the 2,000 brent geese alleged to have been shot by punt gunners in one afternoon. Every hon. Member, even though he may regard the shooting of wild birds as a sport, will not consider that the shooting of wildfowl from a "gun boat," almost armed with cannon, as anything more than a massacre, and not resembling sport at all. The Wildfowlers' Association view the allegations of the noble Lady with concern. In their journal they speak of such a shoot as being a "revolting" bag of geese and that if it occurred they would describe it as "sheer wanton butchery." So concerned was the Association at these allegations that they have sought to find out where such a massacre could have happened. I am told by the chief officer of the Association that their observers and members all over the country have failed to find anywhere where it could have happened. I have received a mass of correspondence with which I shall not weary the House. One old wildfowler said that if it was alleged to have happened in Christchurch Harbour, far from there being a possibility of killing 2,000 brent geese, a man would be lucky even to see 2,000. Similar reports have come from other parts of the country, and with respect to the noble Lady, and bearing in mind the pledge of secrecy given when the charge was made, it would appear that the facts were overstated. But in any case, if it is true such things ought to be stopped. They provide an argument against punt gunning at all. I hope that the sportsmen of England will regard punt gunning as something which we may relegate to the past along with bull baiting and bear baiting. Hon. Members on this side of the House would wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne who has followed this Bill line by line, word by word and comma by comma. He made some useful Amendments to it and would have made others had he been allowed to. If the noble Lady has been the "Prime Minister" on this occasion my hon. Friend has certainly been the "Leader of the Opposition." I wish to associate myself with the tributes paid to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) and above all, to the noble Lady herself for the charm which she displayed throughout the passage of this Bill; for the outstanding ability she revealed in dealing with every point which was raised and for the scrupulous fairness with which she examined arguments with which obviously she disagreed. At all times she has revealed her willingness to give a fair hearing to whatever point of view was expressed and has personified the spirit of reasonable compromise which actuates this Measure.
I wish to add my sincere congratulations to my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) for the way in which she has conducted the discussions on this Bill, especially as I have probably caused her more trouble over it than anyone. It is fitting that she should have promoted this Bill, being the daughter-in-law of one who promoted another Bill in this House. It is also interesting to note as we heard today, that this Measure was supported by one whose father also promoted a Bill in this House.I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) is not present today because of illness, and I hope that he will soon be on the road to recovery. During a sitting of the Committee on this Bill the brent goose was the subject of a lot of controversy, and it is interesting to recall that when going over Chelsea Bridge on the following morning my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes saw a brent goose, which is an unusual occurrence in what is practically the heart of London. I find myself in full agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes). While appreciating the work of my noble Friend in promoting the Bill, I am in disagreement with her on one or two points. I hope it is realised, especially by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) that the wildfowlers feel that they have given a great deal in order to comply with the provisions of the Bill. The brent goose is now protected all over the land. Together with other hon. Members I put my name to an Amendment which was on the Order Paper today, but which was not called, asking that the position of the brent goose might be reconsidered after a period of a year or two. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State for the Home Department will be able to say a word about that.
There is no provision about that in the Bill, so it would not be in order to discuss the matter at this stage.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), have talked about the brent goose. There is no doubt that the bird is completely protected. But without going into the arguments about who did it, I would say that further inquiries have resulted in the knowledge that there are considerably more brent geese on the South and East coasts than was appreciated early in the Committee.I hope that the Minister will clarify the position as it affects the fate of the barnacle goose which is subject to local jurisdiction and the final sanction of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understood my hon. Friend to say that he would make the matter more clear at this stage in our proceedings. I also wish to mention the wild duck or mallard. I find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Garston in this matter. The mallard duck is indigenous to this country. During the whole of our discussions—and I have been present throughout—nobody has ever said that the mallard is decreasing in number; but even so, it is a domestic bird and could easily be made to increase by propagating the eggs. Perhaps the shooting of the wild mallard and, to a limited extent, the teal—but not other wildfowl because they are away on migration—might be considered for sportsmen in the last week of the holiday month of August. Perhaps that could be considered in another place. The agricultural point of view should be taken into account. The wild duck does a considerable amount of damage to late corn and, in the North, to corn on stook in bad weather. It may be said that it is possible to get a permit from the appropriate agricultural executive committee to shoot birds which are doing damage; but it usually takes rather a long time to get a permit and often the damage is done before then. The little owl does a certain amount of damage. Lord Templewood, in his Bill introduced in another place, included it among the list of birds which do damage.
Like the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) I do not agree that only those who take part in a Committee stage should talk about the Bill later. This Measure may have a profound effect upon the nation. I congratulate the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and all Members of the Committee for attempting to preserve a little bit of brightness and happiness in our country.I come from a strictly industrial area. We industrial fellows occasionally get out into the countryside. The noble Lady knows that I do a little fishing. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to go into the country, to sit on a shooting box—where I ought not to be and where, if the keeper saw me, I do not suppose that I should be—and to watch the wild duck nesting and to see the glint of the sun on the kingfisher as he slips by. These things give us a tremendous amount of satisfaction. We can leave the House on Thursday or Friday and get the opportunity to see these things on a Sunday, and that is a great offset to what we suffer here very often. I say sincerely that the industrial multitudes will appreciate what has been done. I could talk for a long time about chaffinches, bullfinches, Cornish choughs, treecreepers and other birds in which I was interested as a boy. My father was an exhibitor and breeder. At one time he had one of the rare Cornish choughs in his possession. He also bred mules. He kept birds in an open space out of doors surrounded by netting. I want to speak about the matter raised by the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) about pigeon fanciers. I say definitely that very few ringed racing pigeons are accidently shot. Their habits are completely different from those of the wild pigeon, which is the cutest thing with two wings. He does not fly like the racing pigeon and he does not have the same habitat. The racing pigeon is never to be found on the stooks or down in the trees. He is near inhabited places looking for water or food, having been brought down by the vagaries of the weather or by accident. Very few racing pigeons are accidentally shot. Often they are shot deliberately by maliciously minded people, especially on the French coast and places of that kind. I am glad that the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone mentioned pigeon fanciers. This form of sport gives to the men in my area a tremendous amount of pleasure. It may not be agreed by all, but the pigeon basket is to the miner what the horse box is to the millionaire. It is his firm sport, and he returns to the mine or the steel works feeling better satisfied after indulging in it. That is a good thing for the Chancellor, because satisfied workmen give the production that he wants. I congratulate all the Members of the Standing Committee, and especially the noble Lady. The Bill may not give satisfaction to everybody, but there never was a Bill—and there never will be—which did that. We appreciate all that has been done and we say a sincere. "Thank you."
I should like to make one comment about authorised persons, the people who are to be allowed to sell wild duck eggs. I understand that it is the general intention that they should be the landowners, the fanners, the game farmers, the keepers or their servants, but I am not clear about that. Is the provision automatic? Will people have to apply and, if so, to what authority will they have to apply for a licence to sell eggs? That ought to be made clear. It should be made reasonably easy, otherwise there is bound to be a certain amount of cheating, especially in the case I mentioned of a fresh fowl nest with the mother killed and in which there are eggs which, if they become chilled, will be of no use.I also think that the little owl is rather lucky to get away with it. I have seen some sitting on posts near where pheasants are being reared, and quite happy with their summer luncheon. I should like to add my vote of thanks to the noble Lady. She has spoken with great knowledge, great fairness and courtesy. If all lady Members were as efficient as she is, and as is my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) who has been conducting another Bill upstairs, I think that we should be very much better off and there would be more people who believe in votes for women.
It is sometimes said that in the House of Commons on Fridays we take more care of the lower creatures than we are apt to take of our own kind. That would be a quite wrong accusation to make against the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). The first time I had the pleasure of hearing her was when she spoke on behalf of Scotland at a meeting of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, when she indicated that her sympathies were very wide and included the most distressed portion of her kind. Therefore, I am very happy indeed to join in the congratulations which have been tendered on her performance today.I go a little further than the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) did. It would be a good thing if all hon. Members, irrespective of sex, were as efficient in the performance of their Parliamentary duties as the noble Lady has proved herself to be to-day. After a very long experience of attending the House on Fridays, I can recall no occasion on which the Report stage of a difficult and complicated Bill involving the clash of a very wide variety of interests has been better handled than it has today by the person responsible. I hope that the noble Lady will feel that she has the high appreciation of every hon. Member in the House for the service which she has rendered to the House by the way in which she has managed to get through Committee and Report a Bill on which at any moment the slightest lack of deftness in handling the various interests concerned could have brought the whole venture to nothing. I sincerely hope that the noble Lady will get a very great deal of pleasure out of her success and the gratitude that all lovers of the countryside will feel towards her. I should also like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to Lord Ilchester and the members of the Advisory Committee upon whose work the Bill was based. I appointed the Committee. I know that the Committee has given a very great amount of time and detailed consideration to all the difficulties that confronted it. There have, I think, been times when it has felt rather disappointed at not getting a Measure on the Statute Book more speedily as the result of its labours. I can only hope that it will feel that the Bill will be an adequate recompense, if not all that it might have desired. It seems to me that on the Third Reading we have been listening mainly to appeals to another place to redress some of the balances which have been struck in the Bill. Hon. Member after hon. Member, particularly on the other side of the House, has risen and almost instructed noble Lords about the attitude which they should adopt. I sincerely hope that it will be recognised that a very great effort has been made by interests which might very well have come into violent clashings to get matters settled here in the light of reason and in the atmosphere of goodwill and give-and-take which should distinguish a deliberative and legislative assembly such as we are. Far be it from me to suggest that noble Lords should take no interest in the matter. In fact, I understand—although one is not supposed to know too much about what they do there—that they have had a Bill of their own which reached a certain stage and that that is now waiting for them to see what we have done. I can only hope that they will feel that the elected representatives of the people have on this occasion shown a due observance of all the rights that the various interests involved have in this matter. I sincerely hope that we shall not have a further stage of the Bill in this House in which some of the controversies which have been settled, at any rate as far as this House is concerned at the moment, will be revived and made the subject of some difficulty, which might lead to our having to ask for Government time in order to get the Measure through. I am quite sure that that is something which the Joint Under-Secretary himself would very much regret. I can only hope that such influence as he possesses with members of another place will be directed towards the avoidance of such a situation. The House of Commons is at its best when it can discuss a Measure of the kind that we have today relating to the intimate interests of people, the things which affect their daily lives whether they are wildfowlers who have to make a living by the capture and slaughter of birds or people who get their delight in the countryside in observing the ways of birds. I would particularly commend what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings). There is now a greatly increasing number of people described as bird watchers who study the habits and customs of the birds and get a very great deal of useful information as well as personal pleasure out of it. All these we have considered, and where their interests have clashed they have been reconciled. We have had the usual defendants in the dock. I recollect that one of the most heated discussions over which I had to preside on the Surrey County Council was when the little owl was put in the dock. In the end, after listening to the most violent accusations and the warmest support that was given to that little bird for its behaviour, I came to the conclusion that the case was not proved but that it would be as well to warn the little owl to be very careful about what it did in the future. We can look back on the discussions on this Bill with the feeling that we have done something to preserve the real natural beauties with which our countryside abounds, and we are all grateful to the noble Lady for having given us the opportunity to do so.
I should first like to join the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in expressing the thanks of the Government to Lord Ilchester and those who worked with him. I think they will feel that their work was justified when the Bill leaves this House, and, indeed, when it reaches the Statute Book.I would also join with every hon. Member in the House in congratulating my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) upon the work that she has done on the Bill. No one knows better than the occupant of my office the kind of skill which is necessary to produce the result which we have seen today. In Committee on the Bill we had a number of Divisions—I believe there were eight—and there was probably more cross-voting than on any Bill in Committee which I can remember. It is a remarkable thing that in the Report stage of the same Bill on the Floor of the House we have had not a single Division. More than anything that could be said by any hon. Member, that fact speaks for the work which my noble Friend has done. It also says a lot for hon. Members in all parts of the House, because there are Members who have felt very strongly and in very different senses about different aspects of the Bill. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), who has unavowedly taken, not an extreme view, but certainly a very strong view on the matter, and I think he can say, as was said many years ago in these precincts, that he stands astonished at his own moderation. It is that moderation which has produced the result which we now see. The Government's function on a Private Member's Bill is to be as self-effacing as possible, and I propose to continue in that vein. Perhaps I can say, however, that the Government will continue to give every support and assistance to the promoters of this Bill until it reaches the Statute Book. Further than that, the Bill gives very considerable powers to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I can say that the Government undertake to make the fullest and best use they can of the powers which the Bill gives them. Various hon. Members have referred to one particular aspect of this question, and perhaps I should say something about it. It is the question of the brent-goose, on which we had a difference of opinion in Committee, which has not been repeated here today. I give the undertaking, on behalf of the Government, that within a few years, probably by 1960, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland will review the position with regard to the brent-goose, in consultation with the Advisory Committees to be set up under the Bill and taking into account the effects of this protection and the status of the entire winter population of the brent goose in North Western Europe. I cannot give a specific date, because I understand that the goose population, unlike the geese themselves, moves very slowly, and it will certainly be a number of years before the effect of such a Measure as this can be seen; but here is an example of the kind of use which the Government have every intention of making of this Bill.
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to thank him for those remarks?
The Bill will be a valuable and effective Measure. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) said, it is more than a code of law; it should be a code of conduct. I think that is the right kind of Measure in this connection, and the sort of thing that I should hope to hear from those who are interested in wild birds, from whatever point of view, is that anyone who breaks the provisions of this Bill deserves to be put in the Second Schedule. That is the kind of spirit that one hopes this Bill will engender. It is certainly the spirit of the House today, and I congratulate my noble Friend upon having taken her Bill so successfully to this stage.
May I ask my hon. Friend whether, in another place, he will see that the law regarding carrier pigeons is clarified, because, at the moment, it is not?
I do not think that that is a question for me to answer at this stage on behalf of the Government. It is a point to be made in another place that the law does require clarification, and that will then be a matter for the Government. I understand that my noble Friend the promoter of the Bill intends to say something in winding up the debate, and I think she will probably answer the point which my hon. Friend has raised. I think that is the way it should be done.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office have paid tribute to the good work that was done in this connection by the Earl of Ilchester's Committee. Strange as it may seem, I have at least one constituent who is a wild-fowler, even in such a metropolitan constituency as Brixton, and it is, at least, his view that the recommendation of, or the compromise suggested by, that Committee has not been fully carried out in this Bill.However, it is true to say that the great majority of people will welcome this Bill in most of its aspects. I was asked by this solitary wildfowler of Brixton to support the plea that was made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) in connection with the dates of the close season. It is unfortunate that, owing to a procedural technicality, that opportunity has not been forthcoming on Report stage. Nevertheless, I think it is right to say that, by and large, this Bill will commend itself to all and sundry, including my one and only wildfowling constituent.
As one who has followed these proceedings from the very start to their happy conclusion today, I should like to congratulate my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) most warmly on all the work she has done. I think that what has been said throughout this debate has shown that it is quite possible to be an extremely keen sportsman and a keen naturalist. A happy feature of this debate is that it has not taken place on strictly party lines, and I feel sure that the birds of Britain will have benefited from this non-party approach.My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), in his earlier remarks on Third Reading, mentioned a very important point about feral pigeons—pigeons which have gone wild—in connection with dangers or possible risks to carrier pigeons. I am very glad that he did so, because I can claim to have made the same point in Committee, and I feel gratified that the noble Lady has been able to note our objections. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) rather threw out a challenge about the little owl, but also admitted that, as he did not take part in the proceedings upstairs, he might be saying something that had already been said elsewhere. As a matter of fact, my hon. Friend could not be accused of that, but rather of not taking account of what was said upstairs. I refer to the evidence produced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish)—and there was a good deal of it—about the much-maligned little owl. There is always an instinctive fear with any new bird arriving in this country—perhaps it is associated with fear of foreign invasion—that it is necessarily evil. Yet two very reputable bodies have carried out tests on the feeding of the little owl, and their opinion seems absolutely conclusive that, in fact, it is not nearly such an evil bird as some people imagine it to be. I think, therefore, that those who want the little owl placed in the condemned Schedule should provide more positive counter-evidence, instead of mere suspicion. From reports carried out here, in the United States and on the Continent of Europe, the best opinion is that this is a much-maligned bird, and I certainly hope that it will not be replaced in the Schedule from which, wisely, we removed it earlier. With regard to ducks, I suppose I have shot as many ducks as most people in this House, in various parts of the world, but I welcome very much the noble Lady's determination to maintain the open season, as it is at present in the Bill, from 30th August onwards. I am aware of the reasons that have been put up why the time might be earlier in the month, but from the sporting point of view I would say that the average young mallard can only just about fly in August. So far as damage is concerned, under Clause 4 (2, a) there is no need for a farmer to obtain a licence, because he can shoot birds if they do damage to his crops. In the representations too which we have received from the Wild Fowlers' Associations, and to which we have paid the greatest attention—I received the last one on 3rd April—they showed complete contentment with the Bill as at present drafted. So far, also, as I know, no other similarly affected body has produced any counter-representations. I congratulate my noble Friend most warmly on all that she has done and, in common with other hon. Members, I would say how much we have enjoyed working with her on the Bill.
The debate today has been a very pleasant Parliamentary experience. I was unfortunate in not being called upon to serve on the Committee which considered the Bill. That must have been a very pleasant experience also, to judge by tie charm, conciliatory attitude and ability with which my noble Friend steered the Bill through to its Report and Third Reading stages. I congratulate her upon her dexterity in handling the difficulties which arose in Committee, and I should say that membership of the Committee would have been a very pleasant experience, too.I have already declared an interest in this matter. It is an extraordinary anomaly that those who enjoy shooting wild duck and game are perhaps among the most jealous protectors of these birds. It is sometimes lost sight of that the disappearance of wildfowl from some areas is frequently brought to light by those who are engaged in sporting pursuits. How frequently have we been told by wildfowlers' associations of the evil effects of oil pollution. We are among the first to bring to light cases of falling numbers and disappearance of species. The Kent Wild Fowlers' Association, of which I am a member, are extremely jealous to preserve birds in their proper spheres and numbers, and my noble Friend can be assured that the members of wildfowlers' associations will do their utmost to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are carried out. It is not the members of these associations who occasionally abuse the right to shoot. They are extremely careful to advise their members of the need to preserve the right balance and it is, therefore, extremely upsetting to these associations when accusations are made such as we heard on the Committee about the "revolting slaughter," as they term it, of the brent-goose. It was stated that wildfowlers had slaughtered 2,000 geese weighing approximately 2 tons. The mood of these associations will be calmed to some extent by the statement made today by the noble Lady. Persons making such accusations should be prepared to substantiate them with names, if they are known, of those alleged to be guilty of these terrible slaughters and I am rather surprised that names have not been forthcoming. My noble Friend has pressed for further information and I know that very considerable pressure was brought upon Mr. Peter Scott to obtain the information. This is right, to ensure that those not responsible shall not be blamed and that those responsible shall be made to realise in no uncertain mariner how revolting their actions are considered to be by all decent wildfowlers. We have been asked not to appeal too much to the other place to amend the Bill. I disagree very strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) that a mallard can scarcely fly in August. I must have been extremely unfortunate with the mallard that I have seen and tried to shoot in August, because I have always found them far too fleet to hit.
I said young mallards.
I was unable to distinguish whether they were young or old, because they were far too fleet for me even to shoot. I suggest that mallards are sufficiently strong on the wing in August, especially in the later days of August, when a great many wildfowlers, and poor people whose only bit of shooting this is, get an opportunity of some sport during their holidays in August. If this matter could be examined again I think it would be found that no great damage would be done.
The hon. Member appears to be discussing an Amendment which was not selected.
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I could not help feeling, as a result of the discussion, that if the Amendment had been found in order it would have had considerable support; but I will leave it at that point.Once more, I express my thanks to the noble Lady for bringing this Bill forward. I am sure that all sportsmen, whether it be those who watch or those who shoot, are behind her in support of this Bill.
I should like to extend my congratulations to the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and to refer, first, to the advisory committee which will be responsible to the local government elected authorities. The conditions with regard to birds in our kaleidoscopic country must be so very different from one small part of a parish to another that we cannot have too much sub-division by the elected authorities who may have representative people to speak on the conditions of the area which they represent.Variety of conditions is a peculiarity in which we take pride in this country. I have already seen through this House some legislation which has proved the difference of the West Country to the borderland and the dry lands. In 1930, there was legislation passed for the protection of the lapwing. I have pointed out that were its eggs not collected in the early months of February and March, the eggs would be frozen, the bird would sit on them, and would, in fact, waste its young life and bring forth no more that year. That has happened. The reason for the legislation was the belief that birds from Holland came to Suffolk and Norfolk, and the Second World War made a market for these eggs in mid-Europe, with the result that we now neither have so many of our own homebred lapwings nor the birds that used to come here from Holland. I am quite sure that in this Bill there are many future benefits from which we derive a really strong social agreement about what should be secure in the countryside. I am equally sure that the study of the brent goose will reveal that shooting is not really the cause of its depletion but that its depletion is due to one of the reasons which I mentioned before. That is, that our selective feeders try not to follow the gross feeders. In this very House I heard Josiah Wedgwood saying, in effect, that if we wanted a sanctuary we must kill the vermin. Perfect peace must always be tempered with assassination, otherwise we would inevitably get nought but magpies, lapwings and jays.
I do not wish to detain the House, but I think that I should reply to certain substantial points raised during this debate in reply to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Something should be said in reply to my hon. Friends the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) and the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) concerning the racing pigeon.
I presume that the noble Lady has the leave of the House to make a second speech.
I thank the House very much.I feel that my two hon. Friends need some reassurance. They are worried that under the Bill the provisions of the Larceny Act, which has been the chief shield and support of the pigeon fancier, are being taken away from them. The reason is that the racing pigeon is a tame pigeon and the birds referred to in the Second Schedule are
that is living in a wild state and therefore wild birds. It is because the racing pigeon is a tame pigeon that the provisions of the Larceny Act appertain to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) asked about the definition of "authorised person." He will find that clearly laid down in Clause 14 (1, a) and in paragraph (c) where there is a reference to "occupier." I think that my hon. Friend will be quite satisfied after studying that Clause. Reference has been made to duck shooting in August, and it has been suggested that it should start on the 19th and not the 31st August. I would remind the House that the Advisory Committees, representing all interests, came to the definite agreement that if duck shooting is allowed on 21st February the close season should go on until 31st August. I feel that if one end of the bargain is kept it is reasonable to keep the other. Whilst we know that no responsible people would ever shoot immature duck, nevertheless we have to make provision for the less responsible. I welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) that wildfowlers and sportsmen generally are behind this Bill. I regret very much that during the passage of the Bill the protectionist societies and those who represent sporting interests found their views differing so greatly. I believe that time will show that in fact their views have very much in common, and I hope that when the Bill becomes law a great deal will be done on both sides to give and take and to come to some agreement and common consent about these matters which are of great concern to them both. Lastly, I have enormously appreciated all the words of thanks that have been said by hon. Members. It has been a very real pleasure to me to have the responsibility of promoting this Bill. I appreciate particularly the words of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), because indeed this has been a difficult Bill. I have learned a very great deal about Parliamentary procedure in the course of handling this Bill and for that reason alone it has given me great pleasure."Domestic pigeon gone feral"
Like the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), I have not had the opportunity of taking part in detailed consideration of this Bill, but as one who has been always interested in wild birds I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) and her hon. Friends and all hon. Members on this Bill, which I consider to be excellent.I must disagree with my noble Friend about the effect of not starting duck shooting until 1st September. I represent a very large area of the Romney Marsh, the "extra" Continent. The ducks there do not breed in large colonies as they do elsewhere. They breed in isolated pairs up and down the dykes and a very great effort is made by the friends of these birds, the farmers and their lookers, which is our word for shepherds, to protect them. That is chiefly done by not telling people where they are nesting. The friends of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), the wildfowlers, have most of the sport, but the people who look after the ducks and watch them perhaps for many months look forward to their one good day. It is only one really good day. It so happens that the harvest in the Romney Marsh is one of the earliest in England, and just as the harvest is cut the ducks fly out to the "gratins" which is what we call stubbles, and to the sea. I am frightened that if we insist on the date 1st September, it may be that the friends of the duck, who like watching them rear their young, will lose interest because they will leave before they can have a day's sport. Many of these people take great care to protect the birds and take steps to keep their dogs away at nesting time and in the summer. Let me describe an incident which happened to me the day before yesterday. I think I have a pair of mallard who are going to nest very close to my house, and an employee, a farm hand, told me about them. My young son heard this, immediately asked where they were and said he was going to get an egg. Fortunately, the man was quick enough to say, "No you will not. I will not tell you where the nest is." One of the great advantages of this Bill is that many of those interested in sport and in birds will know for the first time where they stand. That is certainly so in my case. The point I made was a small one and perhaps the promoters might consider it at a subsequent stage. I congratulate my noble Friend on her efforts. I apologise for making my comment, which is on a small point, but as I represent such a large area of Romney Marsh I thought she would not mind if I made it.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; read the Third time, and passed.
Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Clause 3—(Written Notice Of Summary Charges Made Otherwise Than By Summons)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out Clause 3.Perhaps it would be convenient if I explained to the House the reason why I wish to omit this Clause and what has transpired since the Committee stage. Some hon. Members may recall that in Committee I wished to omit this Clause. It is not that I felt that the purposes behind the Clause were no longer necessary, but rather that I was convinced that as the Clause was drafted it would not meet the purposes which I had in mind. I strongly believe that the defence can often be seriously prejudiced if a person who is arrested otherwise than by a warrant or who is charged with an offence otherwise than by a summons does not know until the last minute the precise nature of the charge against him. That is why I included the Clause in the Bill. As the result of investigation, however, I was convinced that the Clause as I had drafted it would not secure the result which I had in mind. First of all, it was a good deal too rigid, and a person obviously guilty might have escaped on some mere technical imperfection in the notice given to such a person in the way in which the Clause suggested. That was not my intention. Secondly, in any event the Clause contained no sanctions. I put forward these arguments in Committee and gave an indication of the steps which the Home Secretary and the Home Office were prepared to take, but, much to my surprise and somewhat to my discomfort, hon. Members on both sides of the Committee refused to allow me to withdraw the Clause. 3.15 p.m. As a result, further conversations have taken place between myself and the Home Office. I have now had a chance of seeing the draft circular which the Joint Under-Secretary of State undertook at the Committee stage to circulate, and I am well satisfied that it will meet the purpose I have in mind. I understand that this matter has been discussed with the chief constables, that they have agreed to co-operate fully in giving effect to the objects of my Clause. A circular will be issued containing a number of points of guidance. I want to comment on it, although I understand that it is not customary for a Home Office circular to be read in the House. I will, however, give an outline to the House of the main points. One purpose of the circular is to get a uniform procedure adopted throughout the country when a person is charged. The essential point is that as soon as a charge has been accepted by the appropriate police officer, the accused person shall be given a written notice. The form of this notice is important and goes a great deal further than the undertaking given originally by the Joint Under-Secretary of State. The written notice will contain a copy of the actual entry in the charge sheet or book, and give particulars of the offence with which the accused person is charged. The particulars of the charge are, as far as possible, to be stated in simple language so that the accused may understand it but, at the same time, the offence is to be stated precisely; that is to say, if there is a Section of an Act involved it must be quoted as well as the nature of the offence explained. In Committee hon. Members were anxious that there should be included in the written notice some caution, following the general procedure, when an oral statement of the charge is made. The circular suggests that the written notice shall include a statement on the lines of the caution given orally to the accused person in accordance with the general practice of the judge's rule, that is to say, when a charge is preferred. The form of the notice, therefore, will begin with a clear statement to the effect that the accused person is not obliged to say anything unless he wishes to do so, and that anything he does say will be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence. Then there was another point which concerned a number of hon. Members. That was when the police, as so often happens, wish to modify a charge or make an additional charge. The circular will include the fact that before an accused person is tried, and the police decide to make an additional charge or an altered charge, they will be required to give the accused person a written notice of the new charge or the altered charge. This seems to meet all the points raised in Committee in a satisfactory way. The police have been asked to inform the Home Office if they experience any difficulties in practice in applying these suggestions, and the Home Office have given an undertaking that, if there are difficulties, they will consider issuing a revised notice. In all the circumstances I feel that this is a satisfactory undertaking. As this is a Private Member's Bill, I could not bring any pressure upon the Government. I think therefore they have been generous in giving me this undertaking in the proposals they have made to circulate the points I have outlined to all chief constables. My Clause certainly had no sanction, and it seems to me that in one sense by dealing with this matter by administrative circular there is more likelihood that police constables will carry out the suggestion. They will not want directly to incur the displeasure of the Home Office by not carrying out the terms of the circular. Of course, the Home Office have their own methods of ensuring that their wishes are obeyed, and logically they could, I suppose, even withhold a grant to a police authority which was not carrying out the requirements of that circular. I think this sanction is more effective in practice than anything that I could incorporate in the Bill. There is the additional point that once this provision is generally known, those appearing for the defence would be placed in the position of being able to ask the police why they had not acted on this circular, why they have disregarded it. This would be a great safeguard to an accused person. I am satisfied with the undertaking that I have been given, and it is for that reason that I am moving to leave out this Clause.
I beg to second the Amendment.
As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) rightly said, in moving the withdrawal of this Clause he has met with expressions of opinion to the contrary in many quarters. I am bound to say that I am reluctant to see a Clause of this value go at this late stage. When one remembers how difficult it is for a Private Member to get a Private Member's Bill past all the obstacles which face it, it seems a great pity that a valuable Clause of this kind should be lost at the last minute.I should like, at the outset, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having got his Clause as far as this. But, having got it so far, I should have thought that he would have been well advised to overcome the remaining difficulties. I have the feeling that something in the nature of a deal has been done here, and that the hon. Gentleman, after his consultations with the Home Office, is giving away this Clause in order that he may keep Clauses 1 and 2. I feel that Clause 3 is the most valuable in the Bill, because there is nothing more important in a criminal charge than that the accused person should have complete particularity as to what he has to face. This Clause has always struck me, since it first appeared in print, as a very valuable contribution in that direction. There are many reasons why it is of vital importance that an accused person should know exactly what he is charged with; so that he can give proper attention to the preparation of his defence, so that there is no risk whatever of a conviction being recorded upon wrong grounds, and so that an accused person should have every safeguard that the law is properly and duly administered. One can think, for instance, of a recent incident in which a matter of this kind might have been of considerable importance. There was a recent trial which attracted considerable notoriety, on which a Question has been asked in this House with regard to entry being made upon the premises of the accused person without that person having any idea that such an entry was being made, and without any search warrant being in existence. I should have thought that search, in circumstances of that kind, should be strictly limited to evidence which might be material to the offence charged. That is the relevance of this case to the matter that I am now considering. Suppose that in that recent case this Clause had been in existence and assume that search must be limited only in respect of anything material to the charge. That would have been a very important factor in this incident, which has been raised in the House. Many people are rather unhappy about the reply which was given by the Home Secretary on that occasion. The events appear to be beyond dispute, that a police officer went to one of the residences of an arrested person, who had two residences, and, while the accused person was being arrested at one residence, the police went to the other. I think it is not putting it too high to say that they bluffed their way in because there was no warrant and they knew perfectly well that the man was not there because they were arresting him somewhere else. It is not putting it too high to say that they bluffed themselves in and searched the premises. As he was not present, he could exercise no control over the search and they could have produced evidence of totally unrelated offences. If such a Clause as this had been in existence, no police officer would be justified in searching for evidence which might incriminate the accused person other than that in relation to the offence charged. That is why it is important that there should be particularity of the charge and that no search should take place other than that set out in the form, which the hon. Member had in mind should be given to the accused person. The hon. Member said that there was no sanction in his Clause. He now says he is perfectly content to leave this matter to administrative action. He knows as well as the rest of us that now he has less sanction than ever, because there is no sanction whatever in respect of administrative action. But there was a quite powerful sanction in the Clause which he originally intended to include in the Bill. The sanction was that no prosecuting authority would dare to omit to deliver particulars of the charge which the hon. Member said should be delivered, because they would know that once it became a statutory requirement for them to do so it would be fatal to their case to omit to do so. The hon. Member knows, for instance, of provisions where something of this nature is required, such as the Section of the Road Traffic Act—I think it is the careless driving Section, where notice has to be given in 14 days. There is the strongest possible sanction there for seeing that the Section is complied with. Any police officer who takes a prosecution under that Section knows that if he arrives at court and is taken up on that point and has not complied with the condition precedent, the prosecution will fail. In the eyes of a police officer, one could not have a stronger sanction than that. I think the hon. Member has been wrong in being persuaded, as I believe he has been persuaded, that there was no sanction. It is true that there was no legal sanction in that no action could be taken against the police officer who failed to comply with the Section, but there could not be a stronger sanction than insisting on complying with the condition, which operated perfectly well in the instance I have given, under the Road Traffic Act. There are many other statutes in which there are similar requirements of a notice being given and of a notice being a condition precedent. As it stood, this Clause did not fall below similar Sections containing a like requirement of giving notice. 3.30 p.m. What the hon. Gentleman has accepted instead is this process of administrative action by which a circular is sent out to police authorities throughout the country with which they may or may not comply. It does not matter in the least whether they do or do not. Certainly, there is no sanction now, and all any police officer will have done, if he has failed to comply with the administrative order, the circular or whatever it is that has been sent out, is to have offended against a Home Office requirement which will not affect the validity of the proceedings. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have a touching faith in the power of the Home Office to exercise authority in these matters. I should have thought that with his experience in this House and in the law, he would have known that that is far from being the case. I will give him one single instance. There have been several occasions on which some of us have tried to put down Questions in this House to the Home Department on subjects affecting police authorities in different parts of the country, only to find it almost impossible to do so because the Home Secretary is only responsible for the Metropolitan police, and that he exercises no power at all over county and borough police forces. I know that when I have wanted to raise matters affecting the police, I have found very considerable difficulty in doing so. The Table immediately raises the point, as it properly should, whether the Question refers to a county or borough police force outside the Metropolitan area, or whether it is a matter for which the Home Secretary is responsible. Incidentally, I might say for the instruction of hon. Members that there is an ingenious way by which one can sometimes get round that difficulty. I have been able to do it myself on at least one occasion, and if any hon Member wants some advice on how to do it, I may be able to help him at a suitable time.
Cannot we have it on the record?
I do not think it would be relevant to the Amendment under discussion, to which I must return.The position is that if the Amendment is carried this Clause will disappear from the Bill altogether, and the Bill will be a considerably worse Bill than it was when it was originally introduced. While I appreciate that the other two Clauses serve a very useful purpose and command general support, I think that the most valuable contribution which this Bill had to offer was under Clause 3. As I say, I cannot help feeling that there has been some horse trading going on here, and that the hon. Gentleman has bought Clauses 1 and 2 at the price of Clause 3. I feel sure that those of us who do not share his view that Clause 3 ought to be abandoned are well behind him in his original intention. I hope that he will be fortified by the fact that there is a considerable body of opinion in this House which thinks that he ought to stand up to the Home Office opposition to this Clause and do his best to try and get it through. For the reasons I have given, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think again before letting this Clause go, and will feel assured that if he stands firm upon it there are very many of us ready to give him our support.
I fully appreciate the arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe). It was largely those arguments and considerations which led us, when this Bill was in Standing Committee, to resist the proposal now being made. I think that was the correct course, and that it has borne some fruit. Had we lost this Clause in Standing Committee, we should not have had the further statement by my hon. Friend this afternoon. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will have an opportunity to amplify that statement before we leave the Clause.In spite of the arguments which have been advanced, I think we should accept the suggestion made by my hon. Friend. Having been a humble P.P.S. at the Home Office in my day, I am not so distrustful of the Home Office, and I feel that the Joint Under-Secretary of State has conscientiously endeavoured to meet the points raised in Committee. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the action he has taken. I think he has met the various points which were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee upstairs where this rather unusual combination of my hon. Friend and the Joint Undersecretary of State had the effect of leaving them in isolation, because the whole of the Committee upstairs felt that we should have another opportunity to look at this matter. I am satisfied that the hon. Gentleman has looked at it again and gone as far as he can. Regarding the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Hove about taking steps by administrative and not by legislative action, I think that in this case it would be better to try to deal with this matter first by administrative action and see how it goes. I occasionally ask questions about police recruitment, and so on, and we must recognise that police forces are faced with difficulties at the present time. It might be better to deal with this by administrative action and then review the matter subsequently to see if legislative action is necessary. I am satisfied that chief constables will pay regard to the circular from the Home Office, and that the Home Office has gone as far as possible in the matter. If the House remains vigilant—and after all it will be widely known following this debate that the Home Office is taking this step—
That is the point I was making. The hon. Gentleman says that the House should remain vigilant. The difficulty is that however vigilant hon. Members may be, there is difficulty in asking a Question in this House regarding any instance relating to a chief constable or a police authority which ignores the administrative action and which is outside the Metropolitan area. In such a case I doubt whether it could be raised in this House however vigilant hon. Members may be.
I think I can claim to share the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member for Hove in putting down Questions and raising matters in this House. I think that if a circular goes out from the Home Office, and following our debate this afternoon, in one way or another we shall be able to raise the matter.I hope hon. Members will be vigilant about this. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman has had experience of the inconvenience and probably the miscarriages of justice which have arisen from the lack of adequate notice. If the Joint Under-Secretary of State can give an assurance that we shall be able to raise such matters I would ask the House—having opposed it before in Committee—now to accept the proposal which is made.
I wish to join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) on seizing the opportunity provided by his success in the Ballot to bring forward this important and interesting Bill. I share the apprehensions of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) about this Amendment, which would result in Clause 3 being taken out of the Bill. Yesterday afternoon I had an opportunity to speak in the debate on the Budget statement and I mentioned—
Will the hon. Member please speak up a little?
I am addressing Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
Yes, but I wish to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, I did not mean to be discourteous. I hope he will shout out again if he cannot hear me.In my remarks yesterday I made reference to the fact that before becoming a barrister I had spent many years in business. I repeat that now because I do not pose as an expert in law. I have practised for only five years, but from my limited experience I should say that I should like to see this Clause stand part of the Bill. Most barristers when they start, as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will know from your own experience, do work in the police courts. I should like it to be made clear that nothing that I say is in any way to be taken as any reflection on the excellent work of the police. They have a difficult job and one hears many criticisms of them, but my experience is that they do that difficult job very well indeed. We are most fortunate in that we have such a fine body of men and women who do such excellent work. Having said that, I would say that we know the tremendous pressure under which the police courts work. We realise the difficulties. Nevertheless, it is a cardinal principle of our law—indeed, it is one of the things we have always stood for—that the critizen has rights against the executive or against the police. When I first saw the Bill I was not very keen on Clause 2. There is a lot to be said against that Clause. The Clause that appealed to me was Clause 3. It is only right and proper that there should be an absolute guarantee that when a person is charged, even with a summary offence, he should be assured of getting full knowledge in advance of what he is charged with. I do not like the idea of the Home Office sending out an administrative instruction. I do not doubt that the police will do their best to act on such an instruction but, frankly, I have a deep-rooted objection to giving too much power to the executive. There is a real danger. One might have been less inclined to criticise the suggestion that the Clause should be deleted if one had been able to see a copy of the circular which it is understood that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will send out. Until one has had an opportunity to study that, one's feelings cannot be moved by anything said in support of the Amendment. I feel very strongly that the power of the police or the executive should not be enlarged. We should know clearly what the position is. Every citizen has that right. I have always regarded it as one of our birthrights that our people should know quite clearly, without equivocation or secrecy, what they are being charged with under the law of the land—not as a result of some administrative circular or anything like that. With great respect, I suggest to the promoter of the Bill that he should be good enough to reconsider the matter. On the other hand, I have not heard what my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State has to say. I shall be very interested to hear why the Home Office has suggested that the Clause should be omitted and that the substitution of a circular advocating certain administrative action is better than having it in black and white on the Statute Book. Consequently, I shall reserve my judgment on the question.
I endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). What he said was correct. I am very glad indeed that he has seen fit to take the steps which he has taken in this matter. I gladly give a definite undertaking, on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend, that a circular on the lines which he described will be sent out and that it will cover all the matters which he mentioned.The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) asked whether it would be possible to raise in the house questions relating to the circular. I should be out of order if I attempted to answer that question, but perhaps I might, within the bounds of order, say that I have not the slightest doubt that hon. Members who thought that the circular had been disregarded would have no great difficulty in finding means of raising the matter in the House. I can certainly say that, in the event of there being any question of the circular being disregarded, I would make it my business, if hon. Members approached me direct, to look into the matter and take whatever action lay within my power, and I am sure that the same is true of my right hon. and learned Friend. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) said that the Clause was of very great value. I do not disagree with that view at all. The intention of the Clause obviously has the endorsement of hon. Members in all parts of the House. The question is how to give effect to the intention in the best possible way. I think I am not exaggerating when I say that all hon. Members in the Committee who pressed for the retention of the Clause felt that as it stood it would not give effect to the Committee's intention and that, if the matter were to be dealt with by statute, it would be necessary to have something different, longer and more complicated. It is not true to say that there has been anything in the nature of a deal here. The truth is that all hon. Members in the Committee felt that it was desirable to give the matter further consideration. It was the hon. Member for Sunderland, North who suggested that it would be better to leave the Clause in the Bill so that it would be in order to raise the subject today. If the Clause had been deleted, there would have been nothing left in the Bill to enable the matter to be raised today. Consequently, the Clause has been valuable. Its value has now gone because it is superseded by another arrangement as a result of the discussions which have taken place, and I advise the Committee to accept the Amendment. Before we part with this, I ought to say that there is one aspect of dealing with the matter in this way which is of great importance. If we attempted to lay down statutory rules, the rules would perforce be of a very definite character and not easily changed. If we deal with the matter administratively as is proposed, by means of a circular to chief constables, it will be possible to make changes as and when they are found necessary. This is something of a new departure and an important one, and it does seem that it will be much better to have the flexible procedure which we shall have by this means. If, in due course, experience showed that there were certain things that can be definitely laid down as desirable, if it became clear that the matter can be dealt with by statute, I have no doubt that the procedure could be incorporated in a Bill in due course. It may be that, in a year or two, we shall find ourselves here on a Friday afternoon approving a Bill giving effect to the proposal of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. In these circumstances, I hope the House will agree with this Amendment, and with the further Amendments proposed by the hon. Member.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 4—(Short Title And Extent)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 8, to leave out "(Miscellaneous Provisions)," and to insert "(Enforcement of Contracts)."There are a great many law reform Acts, and it was thought that, now that this Bill has been shorn of some other matters and is now a good deal smaller than originally drafted—since other Clauses for other reasons have been omitted—this alteration in the short Title would be of assistance to practitioners. I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in line 1, after "1677." to insert "and,".This Amendment is needed to make the Title conform to the Clauses of the Bill as they now stand.
Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: Leave out lines 3 to 5.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."May I say at the outset that I am very grateful to all those who have helped in the various stages in the preparation of this Bill, both in drafting outside and also the assistance which I have had inside the House. Particularly am I grateful to those hon. Members who have taken part in the various stages of the Bill, particularly the Committee stage, and for all the suggestions they have made. I hope one can say that even the remaining two Clauses of the Bill do constitute a useful piece of law reform, and I cannot conceal from the House the satisfaction which I feel in altering the Statute of Frauds nearly 300 years after it was passed. There is some satisfaction in that, which I hope the House will grant me. Seriously, I think that the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 bring the law more into accord with the times. The proposals have been made by very weighty and authoritative law reform committees, whose views I have respectfully followed. I gather that one of the ancient universities is not yet printing its law syllabus until it ascertains the fate of this Measure. Future students of law will, I hope, have their labours lightened by the passing of this Measure. I hope that, in its final form, this Bill will afford some assistance to those who have not been able to succeed under the Statute of Frauds, 1677, and the Sale of Goods Act. 1893, in those contracts which the law now requires to be evidenced in writing.
I can only deal now with what is left in the Bill, after the best part was taken out in the Amendment which was before the House on the Report stage. This is not such a good Bill as it was when originally drafted and when it went to Committee.It will now remove the requirement for written evidence in many contracts. I am sorry to see the requirement in regard to written evidence go. I remember that when I was reading for the law I always counted on this as a safe one for the examination. It had great merits in that it was easily memorable and was absolutely certain to come up in the examination paper. Perhaps the reason why I was ever able to qualify was that this was the only thing I really ever knew. I fear that students will, in the future, be faced with considerable difficulty in having to learn something else. This alteration of the law has been contemplated for a very long time, but opinion is not all one way in the matter. There are many people who believe that the requirement of written evidence has been of very considerable value in the actions to which it relates, and that it might have been desirable to retain it. I recognise that there is a body of opinion to the contrary, and that is the side which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has espoused. One has also to consider whether this alteration will not lead to increased litigation. Many actions have been kept out of the courts by the knowledge that it was hopeless to attempt to pursue them because the requirement was not there. I have no doubt that many litigants have gone to their solicitors and said, "I want to bring this matter into court," but have been advised by the solicitors that they did not stand a chance because the necessary written document was not available. For further litigation now to be brought about would be a very unhappy event, the courts being already over crowded. Many cases are waiting to come on, and the prospective litigants are anxious, and it would be a great pity if the courts were cluttered up with further cases. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has considered that possibility. Although we recently agreed to pay the judges more money, I think they would be glad to be relieved of many actions which might result from the passage of the Bill, and—
rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Equal Pay Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill does no more than I said it would when the House gave me leave to introduce it on 9th March. I sincerely hope that the House will fulfil the pledges which it has given over the last 25 years to establish the principle of equal pay.
I beg to second the Motion.
It would be a very great pity if we proceeded with the Second Reading of this Bill without a little more explanation.
It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 21st May.
Television Licence Fee (Payment)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Sir C. Drewe.]
On 10th March I asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether, in view of the increase of the television licence fee to £3, he would arrange for payments to be made half-yearly. He replied:
I pressed the Assistant Postmaster-General further on this matter, and he then made what I consider to be a shocking statement. At least, it would appear to shock us if it had not come from the hon. Gentleman. He then said:"No, Sir. The cost would be too great. We are, however, examining the possibility of introducing a special savings stamp card."
If he had not made that statement, I think that I would have let the matter rest in order to see what progress was made with the introduction of a savings stamp card; but in view of his treatment of the matter in that way, I felt that it should be raised again in the House, and I urge upon the Post Office once more to give some consideration to the hardship which is entailed to a large number of persons, particularly the elderly, the sick and others on pensions in raising this lump sim of £3 for the payment of the television licence fee. After all, television is by no means the preserve of the better off. It is available to all, and as it happens those who are less well off, those on pension and the like, probably make more use of it and get the most enjoyment and relief out of it. It does bring some relief to what otherwise might be a lonely old age, and it certainly cheers up those who are confined to their home or are bedridden as the result of illness. I think, therefore, that there is a strong case for some effort being made by the Post Office to enable this sum of £3 to be spread over a period and paid in quarterly or half-yearly instalments, so that the difficulty and worry which result in the cases of the less well-off section of the community could be met. This difficulty is particularly great in the case of television because of the high initial cost of the set and because of the fact that most people obtain their television sets on hire-purchase and pay for them by instalments. Owing to the present law, under the Hire Purchase Credit and Sales Agreement, at least one-third of the initial cost has to be met in the first payment and subsequent payments have to be spread over a maximum period of 18 months. That means that considerable sums have to be found for the payment of these sets over a comparatively short period. I shall give instances to the Assistant Postmaster-General of the cost of these sets. If one takes one in the cheapest category, the 12-inch tube set, the original price is about £48 and the first payment has to be about £16. If the payments are spread over another 12 months they come to £3 a month, and if over the maximum period of 18 months they come to about £2 a month, an additional 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. being charged on top of the original price to cover the administration of the hire-purchase system, interest and the like. If such sums have to be found monthly after the initial payment, it is not easy to find an additional £3 in one sum to meet the television licence fee. The Treasury is already doing very well indeed out of the sales of television sets, for when £48 is paid for the cheaper type of sets Purchase Tax is included, which is, of course, 50 per cent, on the wholesale price. Therefore, the Government are already collecting immediately from the purchaser a considerable sum in Purchase Tax. Now, on top of the Purchase Tax and the monthly payments, they are asking for £3 to be paid immediately. I should have thought that there are ways of easing this burden. Licences for sound radio are still only to cost £1 and all I am asking is that there should be some easement in the case of television licences. Only some three million television licences are in issue to date, and by the end of the current year it is very unlikely that there will be as many as four million. If a gesture was made by the Post Office to permit payment by instalments, those people who find difficulty in meeting the £3 at once would benefit. I should also like to draw the attention of the Assistant Postmaster-General to the heavy costs that are involved in the collection of these television licences. The lion. Gentleman said in his reply to my original Question that it would cost too much to collect by half-yearly instalments. I suggest that the present cost of collection ought to be substantially reduced. If it were, any additional cost involved in half-yearly instalments would come to no more than the savings that could be effected. The Post Office took last year 7·5 per cent., which is 1s. 6d. per licence, for collecting the licence fee and for certain technical services for the B.B.C. If one eliminates the service rendered the B.B.C, one finds that something like Is. per licence is deducted for collection. I cannot believe that the Post Office is being fair to the B.B.C. in insisting upon a charge of 7·5 per cent. The division of the accounts is shown in the Post Office commercial account, and T notice that over £500,000 is included as expenses at local post offices for the issue and renewal of wireless licences. That amounts to 6d. per licence simply at the local post office. I cannot believe that the additional work which falls upon the staff of the branch post office in issuing a single wireless licence can amount in value to 6d. It is very difficult to believe that, and I am confirmed in that opinion when I see that the Post Office also debits this account with the expenses involved at headquarters, and even with pension liability. In other words, it says that so many of the staff of the Post Office have so much of their time spent on the issue of these licences that therefore the pensions which they ultimately receive should also be met out of the expenses of collection, and practically £100,000 is deducted on that account. It is very difficult to believe that the Post Office is treating the B.B.C. fairly. If those persons who wished to pay half-yearly were allowed to do so, is it not reasonable to assume that the cost would not rise to any great extent? Would it be necessary to employ a single additional person in a branch post office in order to collect the fees half-yearly instead of yearly? Surely it would fit in with their other duties. I do not believe that the staff in a branch post office are so fully employed throughout their working day that they cannot do this extra work without increasing the number of staff or being involved in additional expense. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at this question again and to give us figures this afternoon to show what he assesses would be the additional cost if people were given the option to pay half-yearly. It could not be so much that the Treasury could not afford it. The Treasury already does very well out of broadcasting and television. Not only does the Post Office take 7½per cent., which is 1s. 6d., but the Treasury takes 15 per cent, of the net licence revenue, which is 2s. 9d. out of every £ of licence fee. In addition, the B.B.C. has to pay Income Tax, which last year was 4d. for every £ of licence fee. Surely the B.B.C. should not be liable to Income Tax on money which it receives from the Treasury from licence fees if it puts part to reserve for future capital expenditure. If those three items are added together—1s. 6d. to the Post Office, 2s. 9d. for the Treasury and 4d. in Income Tax—it will be seen that 4s. 7d. out of every £ collected in licence fees goes into the Treasury in one way or another, which leaves 15s. 5d. out of the £1 licence fee or 30s. 10d. out of the £2 fee. When the normal person pays his £1 for a sound licence or £2 for a television licence, he thinks he is paying that money in order to receive his radio or television programmes. He assumes that all of it will go for his instruction, entertainment and enjoyment. But in practice nearly one-quarter is taken off and he gets the benefit of only three-quarters of the money which he has paid. The position will be even worse as a result of the recent change in Government policy, the decision to raise the licence fee to £3 for television and to hand over £750,000 to commercial television. That means, if it is divided over the three million television licences now in existence, that 5s. out of every T.V. licence is being diverted from what might otherwise be usefully employed by the B.B.C. in order that it might be used by commercial television. In other words, the television licence holder will be taxed to the extent of 5s. in order that commercial television may be brought into operation during the next 12 months. This is not justified and is an added argument why those persons who are being asked to pay £3 should be offered lenient conditions under which it can be paid. In a large number of cases those who are being called upon to make this contribution to commercial television would far rather see the B.B.C. give complete coverage of its programmes to the country, because at present 17 per cent, of the country is not getting television, and then would prefer to see the B.B.C. put on an alternative programme rather than that it should be given by commercial television. I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to look at this again. I appreciate that an examination is (being made of the possibility of a saving stamp card, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us something about that? I am not sure, however, that it would meet the purpose, because when the television set is bought in the first place the £3 has to be found immediately and subsequently it will not be easy to find the money, as I have pointed out. If the suggestion is that viewers should purchase stamps weekly and that cards should be stamped, then the complications seem to be as great as the administrative difficulties and as costly as in the case of half-yearly or quarterly instalments. So I appeal to the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the television viewers who purchase sets often at some sacrifice, who have to pay for them by monthly instalments, and who will find it difficult to meet this £3 licence fee in one sum. I have no doubt that everyone who owns a television set will be able to find the £3 in one way or another. Of course they will. They will not sacrifice their sets for the sake of £3, but it will be difficult for them, and the suggestion I have made would relieve the elderly, the old-age pensioners and the sick from an additional worry. So if the Assistant Postmaster-General has a better nature, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt this afternoon that he has, will he cease to be as hard as he has been over this matter in the past, and will he in this small way consider coming to the assistance of those who are already finding it difficult to meet the £2 and who will find it more difficult in the future to meet the £3 licence fee?"I would, however, suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if people can afford to spend £60 or more on a television set they can save £3 for a licence in one year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 2231.]
I am sorry if any remarks of mine in answer to his Question of 10th March have provoked the hon. Gentleman to taking the Adjournment debate today and remaining unnecessarily in the House. He has put two propositions to me. The first was that the television licences should be collected by instalments and the second was that there should be greater economy in the work of the Post Office in collecting the money. These two propositions largely cancel each other out, because if we were to accept this suggestion that the licence fee should be collected half-yearly, it would put up the cost to the Post Office and not reduce it.The hon. Gentleman appealed to my better nature. Exactly the same appeal was made to my predecessor and he felt he could not accept it. For reasons which, I hope, will convince the hon. Gentleman, I am sorry to say that I cannot accept it either, and I will try to explain why. The hon. Gentleman feels that £3 is a large sum of money to be put down at one time. I must remind him, however, that the cost of any licence must be related to the cost of the article to which that licence applies. As he pointed out, it must be remembered that a television set costs £50 or £60 and so I think that anyone who incurs that expenditure should be able, by one means or another, to find a licence fee of £3.
If he will wait a minute I think I can convince the hon. Gentleman. I know that many of these sets are bought on the instalment plan and that some people hire them. I do not think it is necessary for us to create an entirely new system to meet the wishes of people who are unable to find the £3 at any one time.
Could not the hire purchase people include the licence fee, at least while the instalments were being paid for the set?
They could, but it would mean entirely recasting the system of collecting licence fees.I believe that as a principle of good government we ought to resist a demand for a new facility when that facility is either unnecessary or is already available in another form. The Post Office would be faced with a very practical difficulty if we had people taking out licences twice a year, even at a slightly increased cost. We could charge a bit more for the licence, but it would certainly mean more staff and, what is equally important, it would lead to even greater overcrowding in our post offices. Almost everybody realises that our post offices, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, are grossly overcrowded, and the trouble is that successive Governments have loaded on to the post offices more and more services which they are called upon to perform. My whole policy and that of my noble Friend is to try to decrease the work done by the Post Office rather than to accept any new application which would increase it. I should like to convince the hon. Gentleman that what he is asking is not only undesirable from the administrative point of view, but quite unnecessary. But let us assume that the owner of a television set finds some difficulty in putting down the £3 in one instalment. The cost of a television licence will be 2d. a day, or less than the cost of one cigarette. If it is difficult for anybody to find £3 in one go, there is nothing whatever to prevent him from starting saving in one of these National Savings stamp books; all he has to do is to put in two 2s. 6d. stamps a month, or, if he prefers it, three 6d. stamps a week for 40 weeks, and the licence fee is met.
But it will mean a lot of work if he puts the money in and then has to draw it out again.
It will mean a lot of work for a limited number of people, but if we make it optional for people a large number of people who pay the fee yearly will pay it half-yearly.I have been studying the numbers of people who make use of these savings books, and I find that the great majority are people who use this service not as a permanent investment at all but for this very sort of purpose, for television licences and the like. Last year the value of stamps sold was £35 million, but £27 million worth were cashed. That must mean that people are using this service now for the very purpose that the hon. Gentleman has in view. I therefore suggest that if they were to use this service to save-up for their licence payment they would be using it for the purpose for which it was intended. Now I come to the hon. Gentleman's second point, namely, that we ought to cut down the cost of collection. I notice that he specified collection only, and did not refer to the engineering costs of detecting evasion, interference, and so on. The total amount of money which was spent on this was £1,250,000 a year. The hon. Gentleman said that it was 7½per cent., but I must correct him. It is now 8½ per cent. Approximately Is. of every £1 we collect goes towards running the licensing service which, I admit, is fairly comprehensive; but I do not believe that we can make it less so, unless we are to run the risk of losing a lot of money. Let me explain what happens. First of all, every licensee gets a reminder that his licence is about to expire. If no action is taken, he gets a second reminder, and, finally, a third reminder by registered letter. Slightly fewer than 2,500,000 of these people had to have second reminders last year, and nearly 500,000 people had to have third reminders. There is no doubt that if we did not adopt this system and if we only sent a postcard out once, we should lose almost 2,500,000 licences, or at least a large percentage of them, and many people would not renew their licences at all, with the result that the whole thing would break down. The other point is that there is 7½d. in every £ collected for the cost of investigating interference, and as television grows, that, too, unfortunately, tends to grow with it. The hon. Member raised the question of Income Tax and the B.B.C. and also the question of the deduction by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is no good people talking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as though he were a foreigner. If he does not raise taxation in one way, he must raise it in another—
One does not have to be a foreigner to be a robber.
There is no reason why the B.B.C. should be exempt from paying Income Tax, unless we are to exempt other people from paying Income Tax.Is there any way in which we could reduce the cost of collection? We could, of course, cease to send reminders. Does the hon. Member suggest that we should do that? We could not cease to take account of the pension liabilities for the people who perform this service for the Post Office. Is it right that the cost should be put on to someone using other Post Office services? I do not think the hon. Member means that. There is another way in which we might help and which we are considering now. A man who buys a television set could produce a licence to the dealer. There are, however, difficulties about that. One is that our system of licences does not entail the licensing of every set. One may have half a dozen television sets in one house and only pay one licence if all of them are for the same family. In addition, many people make their own sets. If we were to collect the money through the dealers, we would have to bring in legislation to register the dealers, and that would entail inspectors and a rigmarole of procedure. We are reluctant to do that. On the whole, the present system works very well. I do not want the hon. Member to think that I am hard-hearted or unco-operative. I am grateful to him for bringing the question forward today. But I trust that I have succeeded in persuading him of some of the difficulties of doing what he suggests and the undesirability of making a radical change in the whole of the licensing system. Above all, I hope that the effect of this short Adjournment debate will be to make more widely known the existence of these National Savings stamps. In these National Savings stamps I believe that we have the only effective means whereby old-age pensioners and others with television sets who find some difficulty in putting down £3 at one time may save the necessary money over the course of the year.
Is the hon. Gentleman introducing a special savings stamp card for this purpose, or is he relying on the existing card?
We are relying on the existing book.
Question put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Four o'Clock.