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.
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.
Mr. Philips Price:
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.
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.
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
under such circumstances as shall not amount to larceny at common law.
Can my hon. Friend say what those words mean, as I could not see the sense of them?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
Domestic pigeon gone feral
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.
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.