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Clause 5—(Prohibition Of Certain Methods Of Killing Or Taking Wild Birds)

Volume 526: debated on Friday 9 April 1954

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I beg to move, in page 5, line 26, at the end, to insert:

(f) for the purpose of killing or taking any wild goose uses as a decoy any dead bird or model of a bird."
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:
"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."
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.

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.

12.15 p.m.

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—

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.

12.30 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, at the end, to insert:

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.
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.

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 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:
"… 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. …"
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.

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.