§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to move, in page 5, line 9, at the end to insert:(c) specify, where necessary, the provision of fencing against the movement of deer on to land used for agriculture, garden ground or forestry.
§ Mr. Speaker
This Amendment and the next two Amendments seem to deal with the same subject, fencing. They are the Government Amendment in line 28, at the end to insert:(3) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall empower the Commission to impose on any owner or occupier of land a requirement to construct a fence on his land or on any part thereof against the movement of red deer, and for the purposes of this section 'fence' shall include any artificial obstruction.";and the Opposition Amendment, also in line 28, at the end to insert:(3) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall empower the Commission to impose on any owner or occupier of land used for agriculture or forestry a requirement to construct a fence on his land to prevent the movement of deer on to that land.I hope that it will be possible to discuss all three Amendments together. If that is agreeable to the House it will save time. There could be one discussion and, if necessary, two Divisions.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That will certainly facilitate the discussion, Mr. Speaker.
The Government's Amendment was expected by us if, after consultation and discussions which were to take place, the Secretary of State was unable to find any wording which would meet the wishes expressed in discussion in Committee. It reinstates the subsection which was taken out of the Bill on my suggestion that it would guarantee that the matter could be reopened. It was, therefore, made clear that there would be no charge of bad faith on the part of the Secretary of State in the use of this medium for ensuring a discussion on Report. Should the House not accept our Amendment and should he insist on moving his Amendment, it is accepted that that is not a breach of faith.
Nevertheless, we still hope to persuade him to accept our Amendment. I hope 1358 that he will not insist on moving his Amendment, first, on the ground that it was not in the original Bill and we therefore assume that it was put into the Bill against his desire. It is, therefore, nothing on which his pride or amour pro pre need be offended if he drops the provision which was imposed upon him.
I have moved that the Commission should have the power where necessary to specifythe provision of fencing against the movement of deer on to land …There is a great distinction between preventing deer from coming off land and preventing deer from going on to land. There was considerable support from hon. Members on the Government side of the Committee for the suggestion that some provision of this kind should be included. The hon. Members for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean) and Argyll (Mr. M. Noble) both made points in favour of this and put forward examples of cases in which it was difficult to resist the view that it was reasonable for the Commission to have power to specify some kind of fencing.
It was made clear that we have no intention of imposing any unreasonable burden on people who are involved with this problem. Examples were given where the closing of a small gap or the protection of some agricultural land by a very short fence might make it unnecessary to have a scheme, and it seems unreasonable that the Commission must go ahead with a scheme rather than adopt the more sensible alternative of specifying the provision of some fencing.
The words "where necessary" obviously give the Commission entire discretion in the matter. The Secretary of State pointed out on the last Amendment that it is desirable that the Commission should have reasonable discretion and that it can be trusted to make up its mind whether certain things are desirable. In view of the composition of the Commission, I think it very unlikely that it would ever specify unreasonably the erection of fencing against deer. I am, therefore, unable to understand why the Secretary of State does not accept the Amendment which I have moved, as I assume that he will not accept it. I see no fundamental 1359 contradiction between this Amendment and his Amendment. I do not think that they are necessarily alternatives, because we are not suggesting that we should impose on any owner or occupier a requirement which would be unreasonable to construct a fence against the movement of red deer.
The prevention of any kind of fencing contained in the Government's Amendment would rule out my proposal. Surely it is logical to suppose that we should not empower the Commission to impose on any owner or occupier an unreasonable requirement to construct a fence. If the Government Amendment were not moved and my Amendment were accepted, the whole situation would be amply safeguarded. I do not think that the owners of land need have the slightest fear. There was considerable argument in favour of this suggestion from the Government side of the Committee. I had already seen the sense of such a proposal, but the examples given by hon. Members opposite were so reasonable that they convinced me, and I cannot understand why the Secretary of State has not accepted the proposal.
On Report, we have not had a great deal of the reasonable attitude shown in Committee, I am sorry to say. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in his absence the Scottish Committee behaved in a remarkably reasonable way. I have never seen the Government spokesmen so intelligently receptive to reasonable arguments in any Committee on which I have sat. It would be a great pity if, on Report, the presence of the Secretary of State so intimidates those who are in charge of the Bill that this spirit of sweet reasonableness disappears. The Secretary of State has been quite stubborn in opposition to many other reasonable proposals made today, and I hope that he will not be equally stubborn in resisting this Amendment but will accept it and will not move his own Amendment, which would be a very sensible thing to do.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Sir W. Anstruther-Gray
Nobody can complain that the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was not reasonable and I do not complain that his intentions were not reasonable, in that he said that he had no intention of imposing an im- 1360 possible burden on landowners by his Amendment. The point which worries me is that as I read the Amendment it could impose a devastating burden on landowners if it is to be within the competence of the Commission to require a land owner to erect a deer fence.
I do not know whether the House has fully in mind the cost of deer fencing. Some figures were quoted in Committee which certainly do not coincide with figures which have been given to me by factors in the Highlands. It may be an exaggeration to say that the cost would be £1 a yard, but equally I think that an estimate of £1,000 a mile for deer fencing might easily be less than the actual cost.
Let us consider the problem if it comes to fencing deer out rather than fencing them in. One might have to erect a fence around a single enclosure, 400 yards each way, which is 1,600 yards, almost a mile, and the cost could be almost £1,000. The expense of erecting deer fences can be prohibitive. That is why I compliment my right hon. Friend on reinserting subsection (3) into the Bill.
A further consideration arises, apart from the question of the great expense to a landowner. How is it to be decided which land owner should, in justice, be responsible for meeting that expense, if the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment is accepted? It may well be that deer which come down to the arable ground and which may do damage—the kind of deer against which we want to fence—live in a deer forest a long way from the arable ground. It may be that before they reach the arable ground they cross some marginal sheep ground, where deer are not wanted at all. It may be that it is from this marginal sheep ground that they go on to the arable ground.
It is not at all clear to me that under the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment it would not be an obligation on the owner of the sheep ground, who does not want the deer at all, to erect the fence to keep the deer out of the arable ground. Surely that would be a great injustice to the owner of that sheep ground. The Secretary of State is quite right to reinsert subsection (3) into the Bill, and I warmly welcome it.
§ Mr. Willis
I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider this matter and 1361 not persist in his own Amendment. In the first place, his Amendment is a complete prohibition on the Commission from laying down in a control scheme a provision that any fencing shall be erected. We are dealing not with a mile or two miles of fencing, but, as hon. Members opposite pointed out in Committee, with the possibility that the new subsection would even prevent the Commission from saying that a hole in a fence should be repaired.
That is what the Government would be telling the Commission. Where the Commission draws up a control scheme which, it must be remembered, is drawn up where deer are causing damage, it could even say that an owner or occupier shall repair a fence which may have been broken during the previous two or three weeks, an operation which may cost a few pounds but may save many pounds' worth of damage, and, incidentally, assist the Commission in doing the job which we are giving to it.
It was made clear in Committee that nobody had any intention of approaching this matter in terms of fencing in deer forests. What we had in mind was the fact that a small amount of fencing could frequently stop damage. Why do the Government prohibit that? The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) fears that we might burden somebody with some expense.
Surely, the Government must appreciate that as taxpayers we are already paying a very considerable amount to prevent damage being done to Government property, and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian talked about the cost of this fencing. Perhaps I might read the letter which was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) concerning the expenses of the Forestry Commission.
My hon. Friend had asked the Secretary of State if he could estimate the cost to the Forestry Commission of putting up deer fencing for the past ten years—not since the inception of the Forestry Commission, but during the past ten years, and this was the reply:As I mentioned in my reply, the Commission's records do not distinguish between deer fencing and other kinds of fencing. The main reasons for this are—as you will already know—that most of their fences serve more than one purpose, and that many of their deer 1362 fences were first erected as fences against sheep or cattle or rabbits and later build up against deer. Consequently any estimate or expenditure on fencing against deer must be subject to a very wide margin of error.The Commission have, however, done their best to meet your request for a figure. They estimate that in the last ten years they have put up about 600 miles of deer fencing in Scotland at a cost of the order of a quarter of a million £s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 19th March, 1959; c. 452.]Here is 600 miles of fencing, which has cost the taxpayer a quarter of a million, and now we are told that we must not expect the owners to be asked to bear any expense at all in respect of fencing. These are men of very great wealth, who were discussed during the Committee stage, when no names were mentioned, but we all knew to whom references were made. They are men who die leaving millions of £s, yet they are not to be asked to spend £100 or £200 to prevent damage being done to some crofter's land. Surely, that is quite preposterous.
Here we are setting up a Commission, which, incidentally, will cost the taxpayer more money still, in order to try to prevent the damage that is being done, but on no account must we ask the forest owners to pay anything at all. Is not this absurd? Is it not ridiculous. The Forestry Commission has spent £250,000, and I have no doubt that other Government establishments spend money for this purpose, though nobody else must be asked to pay. Why not? If some of these gentlemen with very large sporting estates in Sutherland and elsewhere wish to carry on these estates, why should they not contribute towards the conservation of their deer and the prevention of damage to other people's land? They could well afford to do so. Why should they be subsidised by the State instead of being asked to bear some of this expense?
I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to what actually happens with a control scheme. First of all, the Commission has to draw up the control scheme, but it does not become effective until the Secretary of State approves it. I am quite sure that the Secretary of State, if he thought that an unreasonable burden were being placed upon some individual who was not in a position to be able to afford to meet the cost, could say "I do not approve of this scheme and I suggest that you 1363 should modify it in such and such a direction."Is not that a sufficient safeguard? It would certainly be one safeguard. Nobody can—and the Commission certainly cannot—impose thousands of £s of expense upon an individual without the approval of the Secretary of State, but let us look further into the matter.
Let us assume that the Secretary of State approves a scheme, which provides that a certain amount of fencing has to be erected. When we come to Clause 11, we then find that if the Commission has to undertake work to complete a control scheme which the owner has failed to do, the Commission can charge the owner with the cost of the scheme. Here, however, we have another subsection which says:(3) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall preclude the Commission, with the approval of the Secretary of State, from waiving the right to recover expenses incurred as aforesaid in any particular case.First, we have the check of the Secretary of State, who must approve the scheme, and then the Commission has the power, if it is itself engaged in incurring any expense—and we assume that where the owner could not afford to do it, then the Commission would have to do it—the Commission then has the power, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to waive the charge in respect of that fencing. In other words, the Commission has power itself to bear all the cost of the fencing. Surely, these are safeguards which would prevent anything of the kind feared by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian happening.
For my own part, I feel certain that most of the people concerned in the preservation of the deer forest areas could afford to do a considerable amount of this themselves, but if there are cases where they cannot it seems to me that these are safeguarded in the Bill. In the first place, there is the confirmation by the Secretary of State, and I have no doubt that if anybody felt that he was being told to do something which he could not possibly afford he would soon write to the Secretary of State or to his Member of Parliament about it. Why, then, if these safeguards are already in the Bill, should the Secretary of State then prohibit the Commission from laying down in a control scheme that a single yard of fencing should be erected? It is preposterous.
1364 I cannot understand the Secretary of State. He says that we want to do a certain job, and we appoint a Commission to do that job, and yet on almost every page of this Bill we hamper the work of that Commission in one way or another, and we certainly hamper it in this respect. I put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. What is the good of telling the Commission that it shall frame a control scheme to reduce the number of deer if steps are not taken to keep them off the land where their winter feed is during the winter? It does not matter whether there are a thousand deer or 500. They will seek their feed in winter, and when they cannot get it in one area they will go to some other area.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider, even at this late stage, withdrawing his own Amendment, and accepting the one moved by my right hon. Friend, in the light of the considerations which have been put forward.
§ Mr. Grimond
Certainly, fencing can be extremely expensive, especially on rough ground, and so, I imagine, can damage by deer. This is an important point which, I see, was debated at some length in the Committee. There it was suggested by several hon. Members with considerable experience, including the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. M. Noble) that some power vested in the Commission to fence off narrow necks of land and so forth might be of use.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State what is to be the exact effect if his Amendment is accepted and if the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) is rejected. Is it true that the Commission will have no power to require even the shortest length of fencing to be erected or repaired, or does the right hon. Gentleman think that that power will still exist under other parts of the Bill? In the drafting of his own Amendment, reference is made to constructing the fence. Does that rule out making good any gaps in a fence or repairing it, and does it mean that the Commission will not have the power to require even the shortest lengths of fencing to be erected against deer?
I am rather impressed by the point that although this is certainly a matter of difficulty the Commission can be trusted to 1365 deal with it sensibly, and that it is unlikely to require a very expensive length of fencing in very difficult ground. There is something in the argument that if we are prepared to trust the Commission to know about the land and about the problems of the Highlands, it would not be unreasonable to give it the power at least to fill in small gaps. Perhaps that is covered in some other parts of the Bill. If it is not, and if the effect of the Government's Amendment is that the Commission will be totally debarred from any such action, we should be very careful about removing this power from the Commission altogether.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
These two Amendments provide an interesting contrast. The Amendment that we have moved will protect, or help to protect, the farmer, the crofter, the horticulturist, and the person engaged in forestry. The Government's Amendment is intended to protect the owners of the deer forests.
I am divulging no secret in saying that in one of our largest county councils in Scotland one of the prominent deer forest owners in the Highlands—a nephew of the Prime Minister—has stated openly that this Bill will go through largely as it came in because that is what the owners of deer forests want, and that is the instruction which the Secretary of State is obeying tonight. That is why he is taking up a stricter attitude than did the Under-Secretary, who tried to be accommodating in Committee but who, I am afraid, has been overruled—as we saw in an earlier Amendment tonight.
This is a landowners' Bill. It is a Bill for the deer forest owners, and the Government Amendment is another proof of that assertion.
To make another point of extreme importance, I go back to the Report of the Departmental Committee presided over by Sir John Stirling Maxwell in 1919–20. It says:It is generally taken to be the law "—and, if this is incorrect, I am certain that at some stage or other the Lord Advocate will enter the Chamber to say where it is wrong:that the owner of a deer forest can compel his sheep-farming neighbour to contribute to the cost of erecting a march fence to exclude sheep from the forest.1366 The Committee says that that has never been taken to judicial decision, but if it has been done since the issue of the 1920 Report I am sure that the Lord Advocate will let us know. The Report goes on:The owner of the sheep farm has no corresponding right to compel the deer forest owner to contribute to the erection of a march fence to exclude deer from the sheep farm…Where such fences are erected, the proprietor of the sheep farm should have the right to insist on their being made proof against deer as well as sheep.Neither of those things is being done by this Bill. This part of the Report concludes:The point which we consider essential is that owners of deer forests should not be permitted to erect with impunity fences to exclude their neighbour's sheep while permitting the exit of their own deer.I think that there is there a matter of law which must be looked at, because it imposes a disability and an expense on the owner of the farm to the benefit of the owner of the deer forest. Once again, that makes one feel that this is a Bill loaded largely in favour of the person who owns the deer forest. There is another point. The necessity for the deer fence is not disputed—if the Secretary of State thinks that it is perhaps he will tell us where.
The minority Report of the Maconochie Committee says:The provision of deer fencing is a matter which has been considered by former Committees concerned with the deer control problem "—and I have quoted one:and the circumstances today are unfortunately such that the cost of fencing is higher than ever before.The 1920 Report says just the same thing. The excuse of expense was used in 1920, and it is still being used in 1959. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has just shown, there is no trouble about expense when it comes from the public purse. Then one can pay away as much as one likes.
The minority Report says that fencing is desirable but expensive. That is certainly a problem, but I suggest it can be circumvented, because the writers of the minority Report say that they were referred by certain witnesses…to the possibility of using an electric fence as a means of keeping deer out of arable or pastoral land. It was suggested that the 1367 provision of a single strand electric fence in addition to the existing stock fence was not unduly expensive…So at least those witnesses mentioned a method.
These are Reports submitted by two responsible Committees—
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry, but the fact that one is in a minority does not mean that one is irresponsible. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that, because in a little while he will be in a minority. He will be sitting on this side—
§ Mr. Rankin
I have referred to two important Reports—one a minority Report and the other unanimous—dealing with this subject. Both agree that fencing is necessary. Both say that it is rather costly. But when one always has that argument about cost put forward one feels that it is not as sound as it might be.
I received a letter this morning from a gentleman living in the area where people are suffering from the ravages of deer. This gentleman knows from practical experience what he is talking about and he says in his letter:Here are my views on the way the Bill is shaping. To my mind fences are still Priority No. 1".That is the view of an individual who is seeking to farm an area of Inverness-shire where the loss due to deer may run to £2,000 in one year. It is said we must not ask the owner to do anything about fencing. but to this man and others like him fences are still priority No. 1. We have to take note of that. The Amendment we propose, not to fence the deer forests, but to fence the arable, pastural and horticultural land, is of great significance, because this affects the bread and butter of the men and women in the Highlands of Scotland.
§ Mr. Rankin
And in Sutherland. The letter then refers to the question of cost and states:On my 'family' farm, I am responsible for the upkeep of around eight miles of fencing…1368 and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) has the temerity to talk about the cost of one mile of fencing—this is a member of the so-called party of the people talking—to the owner.
The letter continues:…(not March fencing). As the cost of sheep fencing is 4s. to 5s. a yard, the relative cost and length of deer fencing is not prohibitive. It is 7s. 6d. per yard…and an easy sum shows that that works out at £660 per mile, not the fantastic figure which the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian gave, of at least £1,000 per mile. This estimate that I have given is from a man on the spot dealing with these things.
§ Mr. Neil McLean (Inverness)
I think that the hon. Gentleman has given far too low a figure for fencing. The price of fencing is generally agreed to be between £1,000 and £2,000 per mile, which is a much fairer average price for deer fencing. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean) disputes the figure, but he is not disputing my figure. He is disputing a figure given to me by a gentleman engaged in this industry about whose present and future we are anxious. It is not my business to dispute the figure because I assume he is speaking from practical experience and the knowledge which the man on the job acquires.
The writer goes on in the letter to tell me why the Forestry Commission's fences are dearer. It is because possibly they include rabbit netting along the bottom part, but that is not necessarily the fencing we are recommending.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. N. McLean
I was quoting not from practical experience, but from conversations with people who have practical experience with deer. I was quoting from the words of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) who said:I know very well that to build deer fencing at £1,000 or up to as much as £2,000 a mile in some areas is far beyond the means of the deer forest owners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 17th February, 1959; c. 201The hon. Gentleman can consult his own Front Bench on that matter.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman cannot quote my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton against me, because the hon. Member for Hamilton did not consult me before he gave that figure. Had he consulted me, my hon. Friend might have accepted the expert advice I would have given him.
§ Mr. Willis
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was also pointing out that there should be a duty placed on the owner of deer forests.
§ Mr. Rankin
If I have to make a decision on the cost of fences, I must decide on the figures given to me by men engaged in the practical work of farming in the areas affected, and which I think my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) will be able to bear out. According to those figures, it is clear that we are not afraid to put burdens on the crofter and the farmer so far as fencing is concerned, but we are very timorous in putting similar burdens on the owners.
Why is that? One would think that owners were having a very hard time. I wonder how hard that time is. My impression is that they have been doing very well. I have been anxious to get figures about valuation rolls, rentals, acreages and stags—not stag parties—in helping us to assess the ability of the owner to pay, and I now have some figures showing the position. In the concluding stages of the Committee stage of our business I quoted figures from the Stirling Maxwell Report. They referred to a period thirty years ago, but I now have up-to-date figures.
§ Mr. Rankin
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has anything to say he might observe the etiquette of the House and rise to his feet.
1370 I have here a table of rentals, but I will not read it because I want only to take a sample. It is an extract from the valuation roll in Inverness County and shows that the estate of Coignafearn is at present rented at £176 per year by William H. Whitbread.
§ Mr. Rankin
It is a name which arouses speculation. I am told that the liquid is good for one, but I do not want to make any further assertions than that, because it might not be the same Whitbread.
The estate is 40,000 to 50,000 acres, and Mr. Whitbread is paying £176 a year. We do not know how much of the estate is above 1,500 feet, because we cannot get the figures. We do not know how much sheep and cattle it is carrying and all that kind of information, because the Secretary of State will not produce the figures.
The sum of £176 a year for that area works out at 1d. an acre. I wonder what the crofter thinks of that sort of valuation when he looks at his own. Mr. Whitbread is being treated more kindly than the crofter. He pays a Id. an acre. These are the people who the Tory Party tells us are hard up and for whom it sings a song of poverty. This man has an assessed rental of £176 a year for 40,000 to 50,000 acres.
One might then ask what sporting value it has? Eighty-five stags are killed on that estate annually. I believe that to be a good figure. According to the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. M. Noble), they would fetch about £10 each. That £850 will go to the sporting tenant who takes the let of the estate.
The figure which we want to obtain and cannot obtain is what the sporting tenant pays in rent to the man who is getting his land for ld. an acre. The sporting tenant is paying perhaps £2,000 or £3,000. Perhaps the hon. Member for Argyll will rise and tell us the figure. He should know it, because he is right at the very centre. The hon. Member knows that too, does he not? Perhaps he will draw aside the iron curtain which hides the intromissions of these wealthy deer forest owners from the ordinary crofter and the ordinary voter.
1371 I could delay the House much longer on this subject, but I do not want to, because I know that a number of my hon. Friends are anxious to participate. I am sure that after what I have said some hon. Members opposite will feel inclined to comment in more detail on the figures which I have given from, what to me is, a very authentic source.
I hope that the Secretary of State, having heard the arguments which have been advanced from this side of the House and weighed them against the very feeble support which he has so far received from his hon. Friends sitting behind him, will withdraw the Amendment standing in his name and accept the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friends and myself.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I need hardly say that I rise to support the Amendment and the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin).
I rather sympathise with the Secretary of State. Through no fault of his own, he was not in continuous touch with us in Committee. He may have suffered, to some extent, a disadvantage from his absence. To some extent, he may have been spared a good deal of discomfort, particularly when I was adducing my own Committee arguments. I also have some compassion for the right hon. Gentleman in his position as a National Liberal when he has to choose between a fence and a hedge, because his party has never been successful in that type of exercise. My right hon. Friends and hon. Friends understand perfectly well the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties.
I hope that the Secretary of State will take into consideration that the main purpose of the support—a certain amount of it coming from the opposite side of the House also, though not to the point of voting—for the Amendment and the proposal embodied in it is to try to protect the farmers, who to a large extent are among the supporters of the party opposite.
I am glad to say that all of them do not now support the party opposite. There is a new dawn of enlightenment in the agricultural constituencies. Norfolk was perhaps the best indication of it. I will not say too much about Galloway. At least the Labour Party has shown that 1372 where rural progress has been made it was consolidated and further advances have been made. Once a start is made in the countryside there is no reason why every constituency should not be "a Norfolk".
What have the farmers to say about it? Of course, the farmers are in favour of the Amendment. I am sure that every farmer everywhere in the country—be he Tory, Labour or Liberal—is in favour of the Amendment. I do not think that any hon. Member will deny that. I do not think that any hon. Member opposite will interrupt me now and deny that farmers would prefer to have protection, if necessary, in the form of fencing as far as their arable land is concerned, from marauding and colonising deer. I am sure that I am correct in making that statement and that all hon. Members will agree with me.
Therefore, the only question left in dispute is whether the landlord shall bear the cost of doing it. That is a purely financial, personally interested, material point, and the people interested in it are the landlords and those who speak for them—not the farmers and not the crofters.
I maintain, however, that there is a wider interest than the farmers' interests, which is regardless of party. There is a wider national interest. What we are trying to protect is, first, arable land; and one of the reasons why we want to protect growing crops is to encourage and protect the winter keep for cattle. Every party in the House has been united, in advocacy and in legislation, in trying to put more beef on the hills in the Highlands and produce more from the soil in order to make the Highlands continuously more viable and less dependent upon subsidies from outside.
There is a public interest in safeguarding the results of subsidies to the farmer and the crofter. We are not subsidising the crofter and the farmer in order to throw the product of those subsidies and the efforts of the farmers and crofters to the mercy of the red deer and the irresponsible people who do not want to give any protection to crops, farmers or crofters against marauding deer. But that attitude has been expressed from the other side of the House tonight.
The only people with whom hon. Members opposite are concerned are the landlords, to protect them from any charge 1373 upon their pockets. They have never for one minute set against that side of the balance sheet the loss to the public, not only to the individual farmer and the farming community, to the crofter and the crofting community, but to the nation which subsidises agriculture. They have never thought of that side of the ledger at all. To a large extent, our subsidies are wasted if our growing crops and increase in hill cattle arc thrown to the mercy of the marauding deer.
Where does the problem of the deer as a pest come from in the first place? It comes from the irresponsibility of the landowners, from their failure to show any regard or concern for the public interest, for the interests of farming, of arable land, or for the interests of the individual crofter and farmer. It has gone on for generations. Commission after Commission has been set up to consider the problem and, in the main, their sympathies—and some of their firm recommendations supported those sympathies—were in favour of the proprietors bearing the cost of fencing-out. Did not the Stirling Maxwell Commission come down strongly with such a recommendation, that the proprietors, without any qualification or reservation, should bear the cost? Of course it did. That was some time ago, in 1922. Other Commissions before that took the same view. Indeed, that has been the view since Committees and Commissions first began to be set up in 1873, when the House itself set up a Committee to consider the problem. The problem has been there for a long time.
The fact of the matter is that the landlords and proprietors, even in the days of almost serf labour, cheap materials and everything else, have dodged the whole problem of protecting farmers and crofters from deer, on the plea that materials and labour had become too costly. We had that argument back in the 1870s. It was the same story; things were so expensive that it was no longer feasible, and so forth. Of course, that argument becomes stronger as time goes on. More damage is done in the meantime; the deer have spread, people have left, the area has become less and less attractive for the farmer and crofter and has fallen more and more into the hands of the large 1374 estates, the landowners, and the deer forests.
In the first place, therefore, the problem has been created by the overstocking of the forests and the failure of owners to keep down the numbers of the deer and prevent them colonising and marauding. Nobody can blame the farmer and crofter for that. One can lay the blame on the system of deer forest management and ownership to a large extent. The reason that protection has not been provided and the deer have not been kept within reasonable acreages is that the landlords have always pleaded poverty and an inability to pay.
As I said, it is important to place against the interests of the landowners the losses to agriculture all the way from the private losses of the crofter and farmer to the subsidies which the State pays to produce in the Highlands more crops which are then destroyed by the pest of the red deer.
We know the attitude of the Secretary of State. It may not be his own personal, instinctive reaction to these Amendments. In Committee and on Second Reading, the Bill throughout bore the stamp of its place of origin in another place. Those who spoke for it most strongly were at their most ardent when they advocated that charges should be put upon the public purse and no charge should be put upon themselves. The people who spoke in another place were, of course, the owners of the deer forests. There are some in this House tonight, too.
We have had various figures thrown down about the cost of fencing. I have taken the trouble to obtain figures which were checked and cross-checked between the people who sell everything from fencing posts to staples and nails in Inverness and the farmers in the neighbourhood of Inverness and in the county. I do not say that these figures would apply necessarily in the forests of Assynt or the forest of Harris in the Outer Hebrides; one must allow for transport and so on, and the allowance might be quite considerable.
I can give right down to the last staple and strand the actual figures in detail. Unfortunately, it was not possible for me to give these figures in detail in Committee; but I did make a fairly good 1375 effort at it nevertheless. The figure works out at about £660 a mile for a deer fence straight from the ground up, starting from nothing, and considerably less for adapting an existing sheep stock fence for deer forest purposes. I shall exaggerate the figure if I say £400 per mile for the adaptation job.
These figures can be checked in Inverness town. Let hon. Gentlemen go to the suppliers; they will tell them there exactly what the price is of each item. I can give these figures to the Secretary of State. I offered in Committee to give them to the noble Lord, but he has never accepted the offer yet. Perhaps he was afraid of being convinced. I can give every little item of cost, checked in Inverness by the people who sell these things with the people who buy them. I leave that offer open to the Secretary of State and the noble Lord. They will find that the figure works out, anywhere in Inverness-shire within the coastline, that is, anywhere except on the islands, at about £660 per mile for a complete deer fence.
I do not think that anyone on this side seriously believes that the figure could ever rise above £1,000, even taking into account costs in outlying places in the Hebrides or the islands, where it does not apply so much.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will my hon. Friend agree that the total price would be smaller than most people think because only one fence would have to be erected on the lower slope of the hill?
§ Mr. MacMillan
Of course, it varies with the terrain; it varies with contour, with altitude, and a dozen other things. It depends also on whether one is concerned with one landowner or one party or, possibly, with farmer, landlord and crofter co-operating. It will vary from place to place according to whether one is doing it on a large scale or a small scale. I make allowances for that. I set the figure at, roughly, from £660 to £800 at the outside in remoter areas, taking the Inverness prices as a basis. If hon. Members opposite really want to challenge these figures, let them go and obtain detailed figures and compare them with those which I have given. I should be glad to set mine against theirs and let them see every single item.
The important part about fencing is that it is, in some cases, one of the few 1376 effective things which the Commission can expect to do in order to protect the farmer or crofter and the arable land against marauding and wandering deer. They cannot always get at the full control of deer without considerable delay. One of the things which will surely provide the best opportunity of giving protection to the land with which we are most concerned is the fencing-out of marauding deer. Of course it is. Every farmer wants it. Every crofter wants it. They all want it, whether Tory, Labour or Liberal.
I am perfectly certain that we can speak for all the farmers and crofters when we say that, if fencing has to be done and it is a matter of payment among private parties, the three of them—farmer, crofter and landowner—then certainly the farmer and crofter will say at once that it is the duty of those who claim the right to make a profit out of it, the monopoly right now, under heavy penalties upon others who shoot and take deer, to protect their neighbours against the irresponsible marauding of their pests. I can call them nothing else.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
I am in favour of the Bill. I did not vote against it on Second Reading and I want to see it on the Statute Book. I have not supported the Amendments moved by my hon. Friends up to now, but I think that this Amendment is absolutely right, and unless I hear from the Secretary of State something which seems to be different from the position up to date, I shall support it. It seems to me that it is a complete guarantee against any abuse in this matter because of the sanction that must be given by the Secretary of State.
I am not altogether without some knowledge of the Highlands. I was for three years a Forestry Commissioner and for three years a member of the Nature Conservancy and I had occasion then to go into the Highlands and study its problems.
I am convinced that any possibility of improvement of land in the Highlands, either for agriculture or for forestry, is impossible unless the deer are controlled. I remember very well going to Glen Affric, on the south shores of Loch Benevean, on behalf of the Commission, to see an area where there was a considerable possibility of re-establishing the 1377 old Caledonian pine forest. It was impossible to do so because one could see by walking about that the damage done by deer was preventing any reestablishment of the natural forest.
The higher land was in the hands of a private owner of a deer forest. There was evidence that the private owner should be held liable, either in part or in whole, with sanction to be obtained from the Minister if he thought that the Forestry Commission would bear some of the cost. The situation was not satisfactory and could not be allowed to go on. I believe now that the position is that the whole of the land is in the hands of the Forestry Commission.
That is the kind of problem with which this Amendment would deal. Last year I was on the south shores of Loch Maree, where the Nature Conservancy has an area in which it is carrying out some interesting experiments in re-establishing the old Caledonian pine forest by manuring and draining the land. Deer fences had to be erected there. I inquired into the question of expense, which has figured so much in this debate, and I do not see why it should not be possible to cheapen the cost by using electric fences. I would like to know what they would cost, because their use has cheapened fencing for agricultural purposes in the south of England.
What is true of Loch Maree is true also of Loch Rannoch, where an attempt is also being made to re-establish the old Caledonian pine forest. It was in the hands of private owners, but it may now be under the Forestry Commission. Certainly, deer are the cause of the difficulty.
My hon. Friend has rather stressed deer forests as being the main cause of the trouble. My feeling is that they are not anything like as important as they were in the past. They are still a nuisance and must be dealt with, but most private owners are trying to improve their land either by planting or by agricultural improvements. Although it may be true that there are still some troublesome areas with which this Amendment would deal, I do not think that they are so serious a problem.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I would remind the hon. Member that this is the Report stage, and that he has already spoken once.
§ Mr. Rankin
Can I not interrupt? On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, already in the course of the debate, and during the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker, interruptions have been frequent. Do I take it that you are now altering that practice?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
No, the rule on the Report stage is that an hon. Member cannot speak more than once on one Amendment.
§ Mr. Price
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I bow to your Ruling. I would like to have heard what my hon. Friend had to say, but now I must speak to him afterwards privately.
I will conclude by saying that if the Secretary of State cannot accept the wording of this Amendment, I hope that he will at least produce another one which will embody its main principle, namely, that owners of land on which there are deer which are the source of trouble should be made to contribute towards fencing in their deer, and thereby protecting those who are trying to improve their land, either by agriculture or by forestry.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
I have listened to this debate with the greatest care and I thank hon. Members for the moderation with which they have put their case. I know that during the Committee stage, which I followed closely in HANSARD, concern was expressed about the problem of fencing by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I confess that it is tempting to give power to the Commission to require fencing in certain conditions. I assure the House that we have studied this problem with the greatest care, to see if there is any conceivable way in which we could get a workable proposition which, while not going the whole distance of the Opposition's Amendment, 1379 would, nevertheless, meet the problem. We have not been able to find a method—I will explain why in a minute—and I thought it right to table this Amendment in my name to make the position quite clear.
In reply to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), one of the main reasons why I think it is essential that the position should be made clear beyond peradventure is that if the Commission had any powers at all, or loose powers for imposing on owners the obligation to erect fences it would be in an impossible position as to when to exercise its powers and when not to do so. I agree that the consent of the Secretary of State could be lying behind it, but even with that the problem would be a very difficult one for any future Secretary of State, quite apart from myself if I had such a problem put before me. What would the criterion be? It might be just a little gap in a fence which needed filling in. This would save a lot of trouble, but the obligation would have to be imposed. What length of fencing would be reasonable? It seems impossible accurately to define the whole problem or give any guidance on it.
In discussing the Amendment, we are thinking only in terms of the proprietor or landlord who is not willing to be reasonable. Therefore, it will require the imposition of the obligation to erect fencing or mend gaps. I think all hon. Members will agree that with the great majority of landlords it will not be a question of imposing a scheme in order to erect a bit of a fence, as the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) put it very reasonably when he said that it would surely be better to have a short distance of fencing rather than a whole scheme. If that is the position, I cannot believe that in the great majority of cases it will not be easy for the Commission to secure a solution by discussion with the landlord. I return to the point that, unless we impose an obligation to do a prodigious amount of fencing, I cannot see that we can get any halfway compromise which would produce a workable proposition which the Commission or a Secretary of State could possibly administer.
I will deal briefly with the question of cost. I do not want to become entangled in the detail of all the different figures 1380 which have been quoted. I suggest that it is not only cost which is involved. In a great many cases it is very nearly practicability which is involved. One may have fences running over high ground with rock and everything else, and the cost will be far in excess of the actual price of the fencing. There will be the cost of getting the material over the ground and up very steep hills and getting the fence posts into rock. I have had experience of putting a very small fence over a piece of stony ground. It looked a perfectly simple proposition, but in the end I was sorry I was tempted to do it. It was a terrific job. It was only a 4 ft. fence, but we had to put the posts into solid rock and cement them in position before the fence would stand. There is an immense problem of practicability if one is thinking in terms of wide fencing over the deer forest area.
Two lines of thought were running through the arguments produced by the Opposition. One concerned the comprehensive scheme. I think that it was the view of the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire that it was not reasonable to imagine that we could embark on a terrific operation all over Scotland. I do not think that was the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). As he developed his argument, I thought he was making a case for fencing in the whole of the deer forests of Scotland or fencing out on a very big scale.
§ Mr. Maclay
I thought that was what the hon. Gentleman was implying. That seemed to be behind the remarks of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan).
§ Mr. MacMillan
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Would it be in order for us to repeat our speeches so that the right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to exercise his reason and understanding?
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As you ruled that an hon. Member cannot interrupt, surely it is grossly unfair if the Minister misrepresents what hon. Members have said and they cannot correct him.
That is not a point of order. All I laid down was the old rule that an hon. Member cannot speak twice on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Maclay
Hon. Members are jumping ahead of my argument. I heard what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and the hon. Member for the Western Isles said. My point is that they both went into the argument—to some extent the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) did also—that there are many landlords in Scotland who could easily afford to do the whole job. If I have misunderstood them I apologise and I accept that they also were talking about moderate sized fencing.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. You have said that we cannot interrupt. Is it fair that the Secretary of State should be allowed by you to provide the incentives for interruption when we cannot respond?
§ Mr. Maclay
I welcome the opportunity to rectify the matter if I have misrepresented hon. Members, but I have my views on what I said.
I repeat that it is arguable what the cost would be exactly, and it is obviously arguable because of the utterly different conditions of terrain, height and everything else encountered. Some areas may be over 3,000 feet high, and too much could be involved.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am not talking about crofts. At the moment I am dealing with forests. If one comes to the question of crofts and smallholdings—[Interruption.] There are too many conversations going on in the Chamber at the moment. [Interruption.] If I sat down hon. Members would say that I had not replied to the debate.
§ Mr. Maclay
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) mentioned the cost of £1,000 for a farm, and was taken to task over the figure. He mentioned a mile of fencing for a farm. That is no exaggeration for fencing to go round a small farm. If we multiply that by the very large number of smallholdings or small farms which might need fencing, we become involved in large sums of money. I do not want to over-elaborate the argument about costs, except to point out that it could become a very large item to people who are trying to work the land in the deer forests. Not everybody who owns a deer forest is all that rich.
The next point mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend was that the provision of fencing would present a real problem in terms of deciding who was the right person to pay for it. Should the cost be borne by the person on whose land the farm or croft is situated, or by the person who owns the forest from which the deer are assumed to have come? It may not be possible to prove that they have come from a certain forest, and we should be involved in a very tangled and difficult subject if we tried to discover exactly who should bear the costs, or how the costs should be apportioned. It may be very difficult to determine from whence the deer come, especially where two or three forests meet.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention of the Opposition's Amendment, and with the speeches made about it in Committee. I have given the matter the most careful consideration in order to try to find some means of meeting those arguments, or even finding a workable compromise which would not impose an almost impossible task upon the Commission in having to decide when it should act in this respect, and an almost impossible burden of costs upon those who might be landed with the task of erecting the fences. I repeat that there would be a very serious problem of practicability in certain conditions. That being so, I thought it only right to put down the Amendment, which makes it clear precisely how the Bill stands in this respect.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am sorry that, as a compromise, the Secretary of State did 1383 not agree to allow the Bill to retain its original form by suggesting that both Amendments should be dropped. I am prepared to make that bargain even now.
I am also sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) introduced the question of £1,000 a mile, because he immediately created the impression that hon. Members on this side of the House were thinking in terms of hundreds of miles of fencing. He completely sidetracked the issue. All the fears that have been expressed are quite easily disposed of by looking at the composition of the Commission. Anybody doing that and then thinking that the Commission would impose costs upon landlords should have his head examined. The composition of the Commission is such as to ensure that no costs will fall upon landlords.
The Secretary of State has already fortified himself against anything unreasonable being done. The scheme requires his confirmation, and when he wants to drag us over 3,000 miles of stony ground—[HON. MEMBERS: "Three thousand feet."] I am sorry—3,000 feet of stony ground; the one is as reasonable as the other—I begin to think that there is something in the argument that a person's character absorbs something of his habitat. When the Secretary of State was talking about the stony ground into which he had to dig his fence I began to see how his heart had been affected when it came to the question of considering
§ Amendments sympathetically. The stony ground is getting inside him.
§ Mr. Rankin
Are you now treating the rich differently from the poor, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? If I have no right to interrupt, how does the Secretary of State acquire the right?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the Secretary of State wishes to speak again he does not require the leave of the House.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is quite obvious that the right hon. Gentleman is beginning to be affected by this stony ground and to become more resistant to our driving wedges of reason into his argument.
We do not want to prolong this matter, because we have other Amendments to discuss, but we must register our disapproval of the Secretary of State's attitude by voting against his Amendment. I hope that even at this late stage he will vote with us, because the composition of the Commission is a sufficient guarantee that nothing serious will happen to any landlord.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 169.1387
Amendment made: In page 5, line 28, at end insert:
(3) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall empower the Commission to impose on any owner or occupier of land a requirement to construct a fence on his land or on any part thereof against the movement of red deer, and for the purposes of this section 'fence' shall include any artificial obstruction."—[Mr. Maclay.]