§ 31. Sir L. Plummer
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) what representations on the subject of deer hunting have been made by the County Agricultural Executive Committees of Devon and Cornwall;
(2) what advice he has given to west country farmers as to the best method of protection against damage by deer;
(3) to what extent agricultural production on Exmoor is affected by the presence of deer.
I have received no representations from my county agricultural executive committees in the South-West, who inform me that they get few requests for advice from farmers about protection against damage by deer. Where they do, they suggest, in appropriate cases, fencing as the only practicable means of protection which a farmer can himself adopt. I understand that on occasion local damage is caused by deer to crops on Exmoor, but I have no information as to the total extent of the damage.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Is the Minister aware that the British Field Sports Society issued to the Press two or three weeks ago a statement containing the following: first, that the Ministry of Agriculture strongly supports the hunting of deer; secondly, that the Agricultural Executive Committee for Devonshire also strongly supports the hunting of deer; and, thirdly, that this is necessary to protect crops on Exmoor? Is the Minister aware that the Devon and Somerset Staghounds in their season ending 1956–57 paid out for crop damage by deer about £24 10s. for the whole season, thus showing that the damage is negligible? Will the Minister now take the necessary steps——
§ Sir L. Plummer
Will the Minister now give the necessary instructions that the most effective way of getting rid of these deer is by shooting and not by pursuing this brutal and bestial habit of hunting?
There are very great practical difficulties to shooting in the conditions in the big woodland areas in which these deer spend most of their time. I would refer the hon. Member to the Report of the Scott Henderson Committee of 1951 which looked into this whole matter and which reported that hunting was a necessary and useful method of controlling red deer on Exmoor. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh."] I am only referring to what the Committee said. It said that the deer could not be destroyed or controlled without danger to persons or stock in a way that would cause less suffering. It therefore recommended that it be allowed to continue.
§ Sir J. Lucas
Is it not a fact that after the Devon and Somerset hounds were destroyed by rabies many years ago and there was no hunting the whole country was filled with wounded deer being eaten alive by maggots, showing that in wooded country shooting with shot guns, which most farmers use, is impossible and that the only way to destroy red deer is hunting them and, as is being done now, shooting when they go to soil, which means standing to bay in water?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will the right hon. Gentleman be forthcoming and frank with the House and say whether these explanations which we have heard justify cruelty to animals?
The question of the humanity or otherwise of hunting deer is one for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My direct interest is in the agricultural implications of this, and I have referred the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) to the Scott Henderson Report.