Trafalgar Square: Feral Pigeons

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 12th June 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 3:00 pm, 12th June 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to deal with the risk to public health posed by feral pigeons, particularly in Trafalgar Square.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, no significant risk to public health through casual contact with feral pigeons has been proved either in Trafalgar Square or elsewhere. Her Majesty's Government therefore do not propose to take any action on the issue.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, I should point out that his response appears totally to contradict the statement made by Dr Tim Wreghitt of the Public Health Laboratory Service, who said that 60 per cent of pigeons are infected with disease. He further stated that, "inhaling dust from dried faeces can give you an infection". Is the noble Lord also aware that a South Yorkshire coroner has warned against people coming into contact with feral pigeons? He pointed out the particular problems caused by pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Given that the noble Lord's department issues licences to enable people to sell pigeon food, would he consider changing over to issuing licences for the sale of disposable face masks in order to help those licensees to retain their livelihoods?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, advice from our veterinary team states that although diseases are carried by birds, those diseases are likely to be conveyed to human beings only when they are in prolonged contact with pigeons; in enclosed spaces or in the presence of dust from feathers or guano; and when eating food contaminated by pigeon droppings. None of those conditions applies in Trafalgar Square. For those reasons, we do not think that the South Yorkshire coroner was right to come to such a conclusion as regards Trafalgar Square as a result of hearing a case concerning extrinsic allergic alveolitis which had been reported in the local area. Under the circumstances, no, we do not take the view that the last remaining licence for selling pigeon food in Trafalgar Square should be withdrawn. It will in any case expire on 30th September. After that the responsibility for renewal will fall to the Mayor for London.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, although I am entirely in favour of private enterprise, does the noble Lord agree that a health risk could be posed from the practice carried out by some who trap the pigeons with nets and then flog them to restaurants? I do not believe that eating Trafalgar Square pigeons can be good for one's health, or at least not for mine.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that feral pigeons form as much a part of the London scene as do red buses and London taxi cabs? Surely the health of citizens and visitors is affected more by the emissions from those vehicles than by the feral pigeons?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I do not think that under any circumstances the atmosphere in Trafalgar Square would be conducive to good public health. However, the noble Viscount is quite right. In 1996 a study was carried out on the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. The recommendation at the time was that steps should be taken to reduce the pigeon population. However, there was a public outcry and any suggestion that the licence should be taken away from the last pigeon foodseller found no popularity.

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench

My Lords, while reflecting on the situation in Trafalgar Square, is there any truth in the rumour that the Government are contemplating erecting a statue of the Prime Minister on the vacant plinth in order to test whether the feral pigeons have a higher regard for him than does the Women's Institute?

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, in view of the noble Lord's response to the question put by my noble friend Lady Trumpington, does he know that a court case was held because a man was trapping pigeons in the square? Many felt that he should have been applauded rather than charged for so doing.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, that rather depends on the reason why he was trapping the pigeons. If he was trapping them for sport, I dare say that there are those sitting on the Opposition Benches who would defend that practice on other grounds. If he was trapping them to sell as food in restaurants, I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington; it seems to be a very unpleasant idea.

Photo of Lord Jenkins of Putney Lord Jenkins of Putney Labour

My Lords, as one who has been treated in a most unseemly fashion by the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, may I stand up for their right to do the same to anyone who follows in my footsteps?