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

Volume 527: debated on Friday 21 May 1954

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Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 19, leave out from beginning to "of" in line 20.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment leaves out the prohibition on pump guns which have not been adapted so that they cannot fire more than two shots without reloading. The reasons are threefold. First of all, it is suggested that it would be unreasonable and beyond the proper scope of this Bill to prohibit the use of pump guns. Secondly, a man shooting a pump gun can shoot no more birds than a man using two guns with a loader. Thirdly, the pump gun is a valuable weapon for taking effective toll of wood pigeons and other pests. Above all, the extra shots will enable the shooter to make sure that no bird is sent away merely wounded.

On the other hand, there may be people who think that the pump gun in irresponsible hands is capable of causing a considerable slaughter of birds, and that is why the prohibition was first included in the Bill. I have given considerable thought to this matter, but 1 think that any objections that I have heard to the use of the pump gun may be more theoretical than real because there are very few pump guns left, and I do not think any more will be manufactured. They are not popular weapons.

I think also that it is hard on the owner of a pump gun to prohibit its use, because it would mean that he would have to get another gun. Apart from that, I do not think that anybody would look favourably upon someone using a pump gun for shooting game birds. It should only be used for shooting vermin, for which purpose it is a most useful weapon. For these reasons, I hope very much that the House will agree to this Amendment.

Those of us who are in favour of this Bill and who admire the work that the noble Lady is doing are in a difficult position, because we object to this Amendment. I am very disappointed indeed that the noble Lady has moved that we agree to this Amendment.

Let us be quite clear what we are talking about. We are taking from the Bill the power to prevent birds from being shot by a gun firing five shots—a gun described in another place as one holding five cartridges of which four are contained in a magazine under the barrel— in other words, a miniature machine-gun. The argument in another place, which the noble Lady has, in her usual way, so carefully and impartially presented, is that the prohibition of a particular type of gun is outside the Title and the scope of this Bill.

But the Bill is a Protection of Birds Bill. We have prohibited the use of a gun with a larger bore than the maximum that we have fixed, because such a gun can kill not only the bird that it is aimed at but can kill or wound lots of birds which are not aimed at. The Bill itself contains a number of interferences and precautions, and this is one of them, for the protection of birds. Therefore, I submit that the original provision that we made is within the scope of the Bill.

It has then been argued that the third or fourth or fifth shot in the hands of a very good sportsman might be used for mercy killing, and there have been numerous accounts in another place by noble Lords, pointing out that they have used their third shot so that they do not send away a wounded bird. But it was said, even in another place, that we are not legislating for sportsmen; we are not legislating for one who will use his extra powers to do kindly acts. We are legislating to prevent this kind of gun being in the hands of anybody.

12.15 p.m.

The noble Lady has said that it would be a pity to deprive the owners of pump guns, because they would have to buy another gun, but we have already made provision for these guns to be adapted. Therefore, that point does not arise. The most extraordinary argument in the other place was used by a very distinguished noble Lord, who said that he did not suppose the bird would mind whether it was shot with one gun or another. But that was not the point of our original provision.

If there was a plebiscite of birds in the country, obviously they would vote for the two-barrelled gun as against the five-barrelled gun, and in favour of the five-barrelled gun as against the machine-gun—not because the effect would be the same by whatever gun they were killed, but because the smaller the number of barrels to a gun the less chance they have of being killed. We have tried throughout this Bill to compromise between the sportsmen, on the one hand, and those who seek to protect birds, on the other.

I think that two points should be made. First, it is legal to shoot game with a repeating gun—if I may use the word "repeating" rather than "pump" because "pump" may be confused with "punt." A vast number of game birds are shot, and, therefore, we are really considering a minority problem.

Secondly, there are today certain kinds of vermin which can be killed only with a gun, and I refer specifically to wood pigeons. In recent years, largely because of the increase of Forestry Commission plantations, which give them more room to nest, they have been increasing all over the country, and are becoming even worse pests than rabibts. In my part of the world they are very destructive of young clover and lucerne, and they are much harder to deal with than rabbits.

They do not go into holes, where they could be dealt with by poison gas, and therefore guns are the only weapons to use against them. When using a gun against them in the interests of fanning and food supplies, we obviously want the most efficient weapon available. There is no doubt that a weapon capable of firing three shots is better than one that fires two shots.

I should like to repeat the point made by the noble Lady, that a spare cartridge is always useful to stop a wounded bird. After all, this is very important. One may fire one shot, the second shot may hit the bird but may not kill it, and it is very useful to have an extra shot to make certain that the bird does not get away. For these reasons, I hope this Amendment will be agreed to.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments: In page 5, line 34, at end, insert:

(2) The Secretary of State may by order prohibit or restrict the use of any form of decoy specified in the order within any areas so specified for the purpose of killing or taking wild geese, and any person who contravenes any such order shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and be liable to a special penalty.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House will probably remember that the suggestion of this Amendment was first raised in this House by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), who has expressed his regret that he is unable to be here today, but who, I understand, agrees with the form which this Amendment takes. It concerns the question of prohibiting the use of dead, stuffed or model birds for decoys for shooting. The case for the prohibition, as it was put in this House on Report, was that this type of decoy has been abused particularly in Lincolnshire by certain people who have been able to get very large bags.

On the other hand, I thought that the Amendment as it was then drafted was going too far because it prevented a legitimate sportsman from using decoys for the purpose of getting two or three geese. I therefore suggested that it appeared largely to be a local problem and that it should be dealt with on a local basis by the Secretary of State making a prohibition by order where there seemed to be a case for it. Therefore, the Amendment in its present form was moved in another place, and it enables the Secretary of State to make local orders restricting or prohibiting the use of decoys for killing geese.

I should like to thank the Undersecretary of State and the Home Office generally for having accepted an entirely new provision of this nature in the Bill. The penalty for an offence against the order will be the same as for the other offences set out in the Clause, the special penalty provided by Clause 12 (2, a). The provisions of Clause 13 will apply to any such order, and the Secretary of State, before making an order, must consult the advisory committee, and allow opportunity for objections, and he may hold a local public inquiry.

Question put, and agreed to.

Further Lords Amendment agreed to: In page 6, line 6, after "marking" insert:

"or examining any ring or mark on, that or some other bird."

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 8, at end, insert:

Provided that nothing in this subsection shall make lawful the use of a rocket-propelled net.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

It was suggested on Report by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) that the use of rocket nets for catching birds should be restricted, and I promised to consider that. Rocket nets are not very much used. I think the only considerable use of them is by Mr. Peter Scott of the Severn Wild Fowl Trust. He is quite happy that this provision should be in the Bill, because there is clearly a risk that a good deal of damage may be done by the use of these nets by people not accustomed to them. By this Lords Amendment their use will be permitted only under licence. Another Lords Amendment, to Clause 10, page 9, line 14, will enable the Secretary of State or the Nature Conservancy to license the use of rocket nets for catching birds.

Question put, and agreed to.