HC Deb 26 June 1964 vol 697 cc816-25

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.56 a.m.

Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am moving the Third Reading because my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis), whose Bill this is, unfortunately is not able to be here because of illness. I know that all hon. Members will join with me in hoping to see him back in his usual place here next week.

During the Committee stage, Amendments were inserted in the Bill which clarified any doubt which there might have been as to the continuing functions of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee and also as to the validity of certain powers of the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland. We therefore have before us a modest Measure which will assist in protecting wild birds.

I am sure that almost every hon. Member appreciates the pleasure which wild birds give. Some years ago some swallows built their nests in a wooden shed which my wife and I use for garaging our car. Naturally, we left the door open, and then tragedy intervened. A marauding cat, using the car as a ladder, raided the nest. Now, as a solution, the car goes out from May to September inclusive and the swallows move in. Both sides are happy with the arrangement, because when the swallows go back to winter in Africa the car goes back to the garage. These birds give one an extraordinary amount of pleasure when watching them. Their grace and beauty as they fly gives pleasure, and there is the excitement which happens when they launch the brood, usually two families a year. I am happy to say that yesterday four sturdy youngsters took to the air.

I think also of some other members of the swallow family, the house-martins who particularly in Silversprings, in County Antrim, came to build a year or so ago. It is curious what happens with wild birds. Last year they had certain misfortunes. Their nests would not stick on the house wall. Therefore, this year, to attract them, artificial nests were put up. But, like human beings, birds like to go their own way. They have moved off to a house close by and are not using Silversprings and the artificial nests, but I hope that they will return next year.

I will not weary the House further except with one bird, the chough. It is a very rare bird. It appears in the West, in Cornwall, but is a rare bird even there. It also appears on the rugged coasts of County Antrim. It is a bird which we should all like to encourage. It is one of the few birds that is quite harmless. It is attractive and, as I say, is a rare species. This modest Bill will assist its protection in Northern Ireland.

I think that it is a sign of the times, and a good sign, that children—here I am speaking of children in Great Britain and in Ulster—are tending not to collect birds eggs, that rather sterile collection in which, in my young days, every boy and girl took part at some time in their lives. This has been discouraged in the schools. Instead, the children have been encouraged to collect pictures of birds, to make observations of rare birds, to identify them, to see their habits and to watch them bring up their families.

That is all to the good, and I trust that that modern look will continue throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the future. With those few references to the protection of our birds, I hope that this modern Bill will commend itself to the House.

12.2 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) on moving the Third Reading of the Bill, and to ask one question which, I hope, can be cleared up when my hon. Friend replies to the debate.

It is the very important point, from the point of view of the falconers and falconry which arises from the fact that Section 10 of the Protection of Birds Act, 1954, shall no longer apply to Northern Ireland. The importance of that Section was that paragraph (b) gave exemption for people who wanted to take, sell, or import birds for the purpose of falconry.

I should like my hon. Friend to give an assurance that the Amendment if carried through will still allow people, provided they have the proper permit, to take young falcons if they are to train them for falconry.

I think that it is important, in view of some of the rather undesirable experiments in this field which are going on in agricultural colleges, to discover whether the experiments in the use of various poisons for dealing with pigeons will be allowed to be carried on in Northern Ireland after this Section has been amended. Many of these experiments are undesirable, but, on the other hand, there is pressure from all the Farmers' Unions that further work in this field should be done.

It is also important, when we are dealing with an Amendment to the 1954 Act, that the House should, perhaps, look for a moment at that Act in so far as parts of it still apply to Northern Ireland and realise that most people interested in the subject think that the Act is very inadequate. This was brought out very particularly by the Birds of Prey Conference at Cambridge last year, organised by ornithologists and the Nature Conservancy. It is also brought out clearly in the recent publication of the British Naturalists Association of 22nd May. That publication makes very interesting and important comments about the protection of birds. It suggests, in particular, that the special constabulary, in Ireland in a slightly amended form, should be used for the greater enforcement of laws to do with wild life and nature conservation in the countryside.

In view of the figures published in The Times the other day about the recruitment of special constabulary throughout the United Kingdom, it is perfectly clear that whereas we may be short of special constabulary in places like Manchester, London and Belfast, in all the country counties the recruitment is extremely good. Indeed, in Dorset and Lincolnshire we have many more special constables than are necessary compared with the work that they have to do. The British Naturalists Association suggested that in the rural areas special responsibility should be given to special constables for this work.

The idea is good, but some of its other comments are not correct. The Association says that there is a reluctance to prosecute people for wild life offences. I think that this arises from a lack of specialised knowledge by the special constabularies throughout the United Kingdom, but it also arises from the unhappy situation that ornithologists, as a whole, are very reluctant to say anything about interesting birds nesting in a locality. This arises because of the very great difficulty of distinguishing between the person who wants to rob the nest and the person who is a genuine ornithologist and who wants to see the birds breed and to observe them.

It is no good thinking that throughout Ireland, Scotland and England we can continue with the sort of operations that we had over the osprey nest. It has been a tremendous operation and an expensive one, and we cannot contemplate an operation like this for other rare birds in other parts of the countryside. I would remind the House of the phalarope, an interesting bird which nests mainly in the Outer Hebrides. It is one of the few birds where the cock incubates the egg.

The phalarope has started to move its nests further eastwards. Wherever the bird nests we get literally hundreds of ornithologists coming to look at it and, with them, a very large number of people who want to take the eggs and nests. It is very difficult for anyone who wants to organise the protection of one of these birds to ensure that only people who want to watch it shall come along.

It is nothing unusual to see in a valley, particularly as the bird nests by a river or swamp, lines of five or six people walking through a bog to find where the nest is. This is not proper ornithology and bird observation, and I hope that, somehow or other, we shall devise a way of getting a better balance between the people who want to protect our birds and the people who want to go and see and enjoy them in the countryside.

The House should realise that the need for secrecy which exists in all matters connected with wild life is, in fact, detrimental to much of what is being done in the countyside for wild life at present. The problem in the countryside today is that when something interesting is found out, and is of scientific interest, we have to keep it quiet. In some cases we cannot tell a person that a very interesting bird is nesting on the ground. This really works to the great disadvantage of everyone. If we want to have a greater knowledge of wild birds and greater security under the law I hope that we shall look seriously at the inadequacies of the 1954 Act.

I apologise for delaying the House on such a glorious summer day when many hon. Members ought to be out enjoying the countryside—

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

And the birds.

Mr. Kimball

The birds and the countryside. Incredible interest is shown in the wild life and the birds in this country. Particularly we should pay tribute to the part played by the Press, by television and the Duke of Edinburgh's study conference last November on the problems of the countryside and nature conservancy in the 1970s. A rather depressing forecast was made by the British Naturalists Association that if we go on as we are doing, and introducing these Bills piecemeal, it will take nearly 20 years to bring up to date the legislation relating to the countryside and concerning birds and other matters. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will guarantee that a Conservative Government, when they are returned to power next October, will deal constructively with the problems of the countryside. I made a mistake in the drafting of the Bill which I introduced relating to sites of special scientific interest, but next October with the help of the official draftsmen I hope to introduce a Bill in a more modified form.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South talked about the need for the greater education of people on this problem. I was thrilled to see at a county show an excellent explanation of the Protection of Birds Act, 1954, issued by the British Field Sports Society. I hope that arrangements will be made for that pamphlet to be circulated in Northern Ireland. I regret that we tackle this very important problem in a piecemeal fashion, but I wish to give a sincere welcome to one other Measure designed to protect wild life.

12.12 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

So much has been said about the 1954 Act, the protection of birds and about all sort of institutions; and the fact that in our society there is a tendency for young people, particularly, to look more at the value of our fauna that I think this House should express appreciation to the B.B.C. for sponsoring the programme entitled "Look". That is a programme—

Mr. Speaker

Order. All that the House can discuss on Third Reading is what is contained in the Bill. The hon. Member cannot bring the B.B.C. within the confines of the Bill.

Mr. Bence

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. We have heard so much about various organisations for sponsoring the protection of birds, including the Duke of Edinburgh's conference last year, that I thought I would put in a word for an institution which, in my, humble opinion, through the programme entitled "Look", has done a great deal to foster the appreciation of our fauna.

12.13 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)

In any debate about Northern Ireland, I always feel like a private Member rather than a member of the Government, because for the last seventeen years, having married into an Ulster family, I have had the benefit of a home on the border between North and South. I am glad to say that in that part of Ireland at least birds fly freely across the border regardless of the state of legislation on either side of it and they live there in perfect confidence. I am sure that when this Bill becomes law they will do so with even greater confidence.

The legislation in Northern Ireland governing the protection of birds is the Wild Birds Protection (Northern Ireland) Act, 1931. Under Section 11 an advisory council is established to advise the Minister of Home Affairs on all matters connected with wild birds in that country. It has been the view of the Government at Westminster that the Act of 1954 which we are now amending was never intended to apply to anything but the question of importing wild birds into Northern Ireland.

It has turned out that there was some ambiguity on this subject and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) for introducing this short and simple Bill, and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) who, in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh, has carried the Bill successfully to its last stage. This Bill will remove any doubt which there may still be about how far the 1954 Act applies to Northern Ireland.

By itself, this may not appear a significant piece of legislation, but, and particularly curing the Committee stage discussions, it has given hon. Members an opportunity to clarify all sorts of points which came up unexpectedly during the discussions. During that Committee stage we did not go quite so far as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and introduce the B.B.C, but we did have an interesting discussion on the availability of documents and hon. Members had the opportunity to display their interest in the wider issues of the preservation of our valuable wild bird life and by implication—at least so it appeared to me—there views on the Amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1949.

There is no doubt that the time in the Committee stage was most profitably spent. Proceedings on the first day could be described as being strictly for the birds. The proceedings on the second day were even more closely relevant to the subject under discussion.

The powers of the Northern Ireland Government are neither increased nor diminished in any way by this Bill. This bears on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) to which I will refer in a moment. The Bill removes the ambiguous impression that the United Kingdom Government has certain powers which may conflict with those of the Northern Ireland Government. A point about falconry licences under Section 10 of the 1954 Act was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough.

The facts are that Section 10(1,b) of that Act enables licences to be granted for the purposes of falconry, to take by any means specified in the licence, or to sell or import alive, any number so specified of birds of prey of any description so specified". By virtue of Section 10(5) the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland after consulting his advisory committee may issue a licence under Section 10(1, b) to import a bird of prey for the purposes of falconry if under Section 7(2,b) its importation had otherwise been prohibited.

The Minister of Home Affairs has never had powers to issue a licence to take or sell a bird of prey under Section 10(1,b) of the 1954 Act. If he has not such powers already under Northern Ireland legislation it is up to the Government of Northern Ireland to take the necessary steps. At present, in practice, the importation of birds of prey is not prohibited and therefore no licence is required. In this respect as in others, the Bill does not take away any power which the Minister of Home Affairs has and it is up to him if he wishes to exercise them.

The second point raised by my hon. Friend concerned the question of experiments in Northern Ireland designed to control pigeons. This is entirely a matter for the Northern Ireland Government and has never been authorised under the 1954 United Kingdom Act. Therefore, this Bill will not affect those experiments in any way. Some hon. Members may have doubted whether there is a sufficient interchange of views and liaison between Northern Ireland and ourselves on these matters.

I want to take this opportunity of assuring the House that by an exchange of papers between the Advisory Committee for England and Wales and its counterpart in Northern Ireland liaison is effectively maintained. Matters of common concern do not arise very frequently; much of the work of the advisory committees is of territorial interest only, being limited to the establishment of sanctuaries, measures of control or protection of particular species in certain areas, and the issue of licences to take birds or their eggs for educational or scientific purposes. Examples of the problems on which there may be liaison include orders prohibiting importation, and import policy matters at international conferences on bird preservation.

As is clear from its Short Title, the Bill amends the 1954 Act, and many hon. Members will know—the point has been raised this morning—that there are various other amendments to the Act under consideration. I will certainly take account of the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. I notice that the author of the report of the British Naturalists Association, published on 22nd May—to which my hon. Friend referred—suggested that an amending Bill might run to over 200 Clauses. I shall look forward with interest to seeing the draft of that Bill when he is prepared to bring it forward.

Although the House will readily understand why I can do nothing about a Bill of 200 Clauses at the moment, I regret that it has not been possible to introduce any such far-reaching legislation in this Session, and I look forward to seeing something done in the matter in the next Parliament. I know that the Government of the day will welcome the advice of the many hon. Members who have both knowledge and experience of all aspects of preservation of our wild bird life.

I cordially support the Motion for the Third Reading.

12.22 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily, but as a Member of the Standing Committee which considered the Bill I am glad to see that this Measure has come before the House for Third Reading. When I saw the number of Amendments that were put down on a certain day I wondered whether we would ever get the Bill, but as time went on and the number of days ran out the number of Amendments and the speed with which they were dealt with rapidly increased.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

The hon. Member will realise that the reason for so many Amendments being put down was that my hon. Friends in Committee were under some misapprehension, because we could not get hold of the relevant documents. When we were able to do so we saw clearly what the issue was and we withdrew our Amendments in order to allow the Bill to go through.

Dr. Glyn

The hon. Member is quite right in his reference to the expediting of matters, but whatever the causes may have been and whatever the underlying circumstances, I am sure that we all welcome the Bill, because it clarifies the 1954 Act to the extent that it relates to Northern Ireland. I add my tribute to those paid by hon. Members to those of my hon. Friends who have piloted this small but not unimportant Measure through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.