HC Deb 29 April 1959 vol 604 cc1421-7
Mr. MacIay

I beg to move, in page 20, line 39, column 3, at the end to insert: in section forty-three, subsection (2). I dealt with the point of this Amendment when making my speech on the previous Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen' s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Maclay

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

I would like to thank all those hon. Members of the House and of the Scottish Standing Committee who have worked so hard on the Bill. I would also thank my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate for all that they have done. They have kept me closely informed of what has been going on and I have tried to follow the work on the Bill as closely as I could.

While obviously not every point is agreed we have produced a Bill which has long been needed and will fulfil a very real need in the Highland areas, and all those areas where deer are present. I cannot accept the idea that this is an unnecessary Bill. I do not believe that farmers and crofters who have suffered damage to their crops for years think that it is unnecessary. I believe that they think it necessary. It has been a standing disgrace that for years we have not had a close season for red deer. I believe that we are the only nation in Western Europe not to have a close season. There has also been the appalling problem of wanton cruelty which has arisen from the gang poaching.

The Bill is timely, necessary and wanted by a great many people in Scotland and a great many people who follow some of the problems that have arisen during the Bill. But even more important than meeting the wishes of those who wanted the Bill, is the fact that it will contribute to the cause we are all concerned about—a more healthy economic life in the remoter parts of our country.

I believe that the Bill does contribute to that. I emphasise again that the agricultural need for it was great. I believe that the Bill as amended can do the job it is designed to do. In my recollection, no Bill that has gone through the House has ever proved perfect for evermore, but this Bill is a very great step forward. We have needed it for years and I have great pleasure and confidence in commending it to the House for its Third Reading.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. T. Fraser

Having heard the Secretary of State's speech, I cannot now believe that he did read the Committee stage proceedings of the Bill, nor has read the leaders in a great many national newspapers on its provisions, otherwise he could not have made the kind of speech that he has just delivered.

We all thought that a Bill was necessary, but very few people think that this is the Bill that was needed. The Secretary of State has just spoken about the need for the Bill to protect our agriculture and, as he said, to bring about some economic improvement in the remoter parts of our country. He must be unaware that we moved Amendments in Committee upstairs to secure that the Commission would have powers of determining land use so that some economic prosperity could have been introduced into some of those remoter parts. But his hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary resisted all the proposals to improve the Bill by changing the functions of the Commission and bringing them into closer relationship with the proposals of the committee set up by the Nature Conservancy at the invitation of the then Minister, Lord Home.

I think, Mr. Speaker, that many hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies would be obliged if you would give a Ruling on the point I raised this afternoon, whether a document should be available for study by hon. Members when it is quoted by a Minister in support of a Bill and shown to be the basis of the Bill. Had we had a copy of the report of the committee concerned, we should have seen how inadequate was the consideration given to the so-called interests in this matter. The so-called interests which were to get together to consider what should be done about the red deer did not include a single representative of the crofters in the North of Scotland. They were completely ignored, and they have been almost completely ignored in the Bill.

We think it right that a Commission should be established, but we do not think this is the right Commission. We were told during the Committee stage discussions that the different subsections did not represent the organisations stated by name in the report of the Nature Conservancy committee. We thought that the Commission would be composed of people appointed because of their administrative ability and concern for the Highlands. We thought that the Commission would be given the opportunity to take decisions about land use which, one gathers, is what the committee suggested. But all that has been ignored. The composition of the Com- mission is so tightly balanced between the conflicting interests that it will not do a good job. Its functions are far too circumscribed.

The Secretary of State has resisted all efforts to improve Part I of the Bill, because he wanted to give the landowning interests and the sporting interests every possible loophole and way out from doing what the needs of agriculture and forestry dictate ought to be done.

Mr. Maclay


Mr. Fraser

I agree that it is nonsense to expect that the Commission will do a proper job with the functions given to it.

No one who has taken part in the discussion on the Bill can fail to be aware of the concern of the Government that no obligation shall be placed on the owner of any land if it is going to take anything out of his pocket. There is a provision that the Commission may not impose any duty to put up a single yard of deer fencing. Is the House aware that the Secretary of State informed me by letter a few weeks ago that the Forestry Commission had erected 600 miles of deer fencing to protect trees from the depredations of the red deer?

The Forestry Commission, acting for the taxpayers of the country, put up 600 miles of deer fencing, but in the Bill the Secretary of State has provided that the Red Deer Commission shall not have power to instruct an owner to put up a single yard of deer fencing, so concerned is he that this Commission shall impose no hardship or burden on landowners and sporting interests.

On Part III of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman resisted all Amendments that were calculated to see that the Bill, when enacted, would do what its authors claim they want to do. When we sought to secure that Clauses 22 to 25 should be so amended that penalties should not alight on persons for whom they are not intended, the Secretary of State, the Joint Under-Secretary and the Lord Advocate were at pains to see that we should avoid every possible loophole. No loophole is to be provided for the crofter, the farmer, the person making proper and best use of the land, using our land which brings economic wellbeing to the Highlands in crofting, agriculture and afforestation.

There is no economic advantage to the Highlands in the cultivation of red deer for sport, none at all, but the people who develop our land for the purposes of agriculture and forestry, and have their efforts very largely frustrated by the depredations of red deer, are not to have any protection because some may be gang poachers in disguise. That has been the attitude of the Government throughout.

We on this side of the House want a Red Deer Commission. We want it to have powers of conservation and control of red deer. We wish we had a Commission differently composed from this one. We wish that the Secretary of State had given a different kind of Commission far greater powers than those given in the Bill. We believe in the close season. Incidentally, it should be noted by the blindest supporters of the Treasury Bench that the persons against whom the close season is to be imposed are sporting tenants. Those are the persons who have been shooting deer in the close season. I can see hon. Members on the Government benches shaking their heads in con-tradition of what I say. One of them told the committee what a successful poacher he was.

It was said by another spokesman for the landowners, the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), that some of the deer forest owners, some of the sporting gentry, were taking deer out of season because it paid them to do so. We are getting the close season in Part II of the Bill to restrain some of those sporting gentry who had been causing quite unnecessary cruelty by taking deer at the wrong time of the year.

Part III is quite vindictive. For the Lord Advocate, in advocating Clause 25 today, to say that it was picked out of the 1951 Act dealing with salmon poaching, was a bit too smart, because that Measure dealt with weapons which had no legal use, whereas the weapons dealt with in this Bill are firearms which every farmer and crofter possesses. As my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) pointed out earlier this evening, when we were dealing with salmon we were dealing with one of our native creatures which was fast disappearing from our midst. The rivers were being denuded because of the activities of gang poachers and very grave concern was being expressed about it by ordinary fishermen and landowners among others. Some action had to be taken.

Here we are not worried because the red deer are in danger of becoming extinct. We are concerned because the amount of damage done by them has been increasing year after year and the Secretary of State has been doing nothing about it, despite his powers under the 1948 Act which, incidentally, were the subject of favourable comment by the committee set up under the Nature Conservancy. By the Third Schedule of the Bill he is removing those powers. He no longer wants the powers which he has at present, because he is giving powers to the Red Deer Commission. He has failed lamentably to exercise the powers which Parliament gave him and he hopes that the Commission will carry out the wishes of Parliament a little more effectively than he himself has done.

We shall not oppose the Third Reading. We want a Bill to do many of the things which at first flush the Bill seems to set out to do. We very much fear, however, that the Bill will not have the effect which the Secretary of State forecast in his speech in which he moved the Third Reading. Time alone will tell.

I regret that the Secretary of State has paid so little attention not only to the suggestions and advice offered from this side of the House, but also to the advice offered freely in the national Press and by not a few expert contributors to many of our leading newspapers. It is a great pity that he has paid so little attention to some of the advice which has been given by such organisations as the N.F.U. in Scotland. It is a great pity that some hon. Members opposite, who sometimes boast, particularly on election platforms. of the high office which they hold in the National Farmer's Union, have so let down the N.F.U. in the speeches which they have made during the passage of the Bill.

The noble Lord the Joint Under-Secretary of State seems to think that this is a joke. He seems to think that hon. Members are entitled to boast of being spokesmen for the National Farmers' Union and then to make speeches here arguing against Amendments which have been suggested by the N.F.U. and put on the Notice Paper by hon. Members who think that such Amendments might at least be canvassed in the House and its Committees.

We hope that we are wrong in forecasting such a wishy-washy future for the Commission. Time alone will tell whether the Secretary of State's high hopes are justified.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. John MacLeod

I must say a few words in complimenting the Government on having brought the Bill to this stage. There is no doubt that people in the North of Scotland were disgusted at the conditions prevailing in the deer stalking areas.

The speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was very contradictory and a little misleading. He said that agriculture and forestry play a big part in our economy and then he said that the red deer have no part to play at all. Everybody must agree, whether they ardently oppose them or not, that deer forests play their part in the Highland economy. We must remember that gamekeepers, stalkers, gillies and local stores all make a very good thing out of the people who come to the North and take deer forests. That point must not be neglected.

I dare say that this is not a perfect Bill, but we must congratulate the Government on having had the courage to tackle the problem. I and many other people hope that the Commission to be set up will be able to control deer and to play some part in improving the existing conditions.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.