§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Last Saturday, the Guardian headlined a feature article about today's debate and referred to it as "The Other Disarmament Debate". I hardly feel that we are legislating in competition with the United Nations, but I think that it is an apt title for, at any rate, one of the purposes of the Bill.
After describing the erstwhile remote and peaceful areas of the Thames Estuary and their wild life, the correspondent referred to the present-day conditions there and said:Today, all is changed. At the weekends the visitor might think he had strayed into a combined bomb and rifle range. The boom of 12 bores and 410s is broken every minute or two by the crack of a lighter weapon. Gun boys are rarely out of sight…Gangs ride over the marsh in jeeps and take pot-shots at whatever can be potted at easily. Quite small boys are to be seen counting the hedgerows with airguns. The quarry again is virtually anything reasonably small that moves.The Bill is an attempt to deal with this situation. In addition, the Bill brings up-to-date one or two points in the Game Licence Act, 1860, and the Gun Licence Act, 1870. It also attempts to adapt some of the other points to modern conditions.
I suppose that the Bill could really be said to be, first, a Measure to reduce the wounding of young people and others, secondly, to reduce the wounding of birds and animals, and, thirdly, to make poaching, with the consequent damage it does to wild life, less attractive. Over the post-war years there has 856 been an alarming increase in the number of accidents that concern juveniles with guns of one sort or another. Particularly is this so with airguns, which have been improved very considerably both in their range and their capacity to kill. Judging from the letters that I have received since the Bill has been published, the concern about this situation is shared by a very great number of people.
My hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in reply to a Question on 24th November, gave figures of the personal injuries from airguns fired by persons under the age of 17 which were reported to the police. I emphasise "which were reported to the police". In other words, all the accidents may not have been reported. In 1956, there were 501; in 1957, there were 648; in 1958, there were 719; and in 1959, which is the latest date for which I have been able to obtain figures, the number was 738. Therefore, hon. Members will be able to see that the number of persons injured is steadily rising.
Another figure, though it is not strictly comparable, is that given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 25th January, when he compared surveys carried out over two three-year periods, ending respectively on 31st December, 1958, and 28th February, 1934. This showed that the number of persons injured or killed by airguns in the three years prior to December, 1958, was 2,712. In a similar period ending in February, 1934, the number was only 389. So the number has risen very considerably. With shotguns included, the number of persons injured and killed in the period ending December, 1958, was 610 and in the period ending in February, 1934, 439. There again, there has been a very considerable rise.
Those of us who live on farms or in the country, on the outskirts of urban areas, know all too well of the groups of young people who go around firing indiscriminately at anything which is alive. Not only do they endanger the survival of many of the most precious forms of British natural life, but through inexperience they often wound animals and birds and leave them alone in their suffering.
857 Clause 1 of the Bill is designed to make sure that persons under the age of 15 shall not use a gun unless they are accompanied by specific persons who can be classified as responsible. The age of 15 is, of course, a compromise. Some people feel that it should be older; some feel that it should be younger. Taking all the views into consideration, I think that 15 is just about right. A boy certainly can—he probably should—be taught to shoot between the ages of 12 and 15, and is he is supervised then and properly taught he will develop into not only a reasonably good shot but, much more important, a safe shot. A number of exceptions are listed in subsections (1) and (2) to cover rifle clubs and ranges and small bore rifle and pistol clubs. We suggest that the penalty for contravention of this provision should be a fine not exceeding £20.
Clause 2 brings up to date the penalty of £20 in Section 4 of the Game Licence Act, 1860. A more reasonable figure, considering the present-day value of money, is £50. It may be that hon. Members will have suggestions to make with regard to this part of the Bill. My hon. Friends and I will listen most carefully to the debate and consider any suggestions that may be made either by back bench Members or by the representative of the Home Department.
Clauses 6 and 8 bring up to date the Game Act, 1831. Of course, when the Act was passed there were no deep freezes. In fact, things were very different then. I understand that transportation was still a penalty for some of the offences under the Act. I am sure that there are today many people who un-knowingly commit an offence by keeping game in their deep freezes well after the end of the period of 40 days in which they are allowed to retain it. I should not like to have to swear that my deepfreeze was empty of game a matter of 40 days after the end of the shooting season
It is intended to make it a defence if one can prove that the game was killed in season and has been kept in cold storage; it will then be within the law. Similarly, it is intended to provide that game may be sold out of season up to a date not later than 30 clear days before the next day on which it becomes 858 lawful to kill and take birds of the same species provided that it is proved that it has been kept in cold storage.
Clause 9 seems to have caused a certain amount of controversy. It was originally introduced because of the success which these provisions have had in stopping poaching of one form or another in different areas of the United Kingdom. However, in view of the controversy which has been aroused, my hon. Friends and I would not like to see the other objects of the Bill defeated because of this Clause, and we will listen most carefully to the debate and the views which are expressed about the Clause.
This is not a Bill which will revolutionise either the game laws or the gun licensing laws, but it is one which, I think, will help to preserve the game and wild life of the country and to reduce and prevent the number of accidents that there are to young people and others.
The Bill has very wide support. It has been supported in principle, as hon. Members may well know today, by the National Farmers' Union, though it has stated that it is not altogether happy about Clause 9. The hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), who is most disappointed that she cannot be here to take part in the debate because of another important engagement, has also stated that she supports the Measure most enthusiastically. Those of us who have been in the House for a little while will know that she has often taken up the matter of the damage that can be done by airguns and air pistols. In fact, back in 1956 she was pressing the then Home Secretary to get something done about airguns because of the number of eye injury cases in a hospital with which she was concerned which were caused by airgun pellets.
Some people have expressed the view that this is a grandmotherly Bill, or a Measure which could have been evolved only by people with urban minds. I would refer those people to the very excellent leading article in the magazine, the Field, which could hardly be considered to be a grandmotherly or urban magazine. Under the heading "Arms and the Boy" the Field summarised what the 859 Bill sets out to do. It said that it aims tocurtail the indiscriminate use of fire-arms, shot guns and air guns by adolescents, and to this end prohibit children under 15 from using or carrying guns unless accompanied by responsible adults; to bring some of the penalties for poaching into line with present money values and to vary the law relating to the possession of game in the close season in view of modern refrigeration.That is a very apt and appropriate summary of the objects of the Bill.
As I have said, we have very wide support for the Bill. I have had much correspondence from such organisations as those concerned with the preservation of wild life, from those who know a lot about what goes on in the countryside—the Women's Institutes—and from a large number of other organisations interested both in preserving wild life and in minimising injury to young persons. This will be a useful if not a very revolutionary Measure, and I hope that the House will find itself able to support it.
§ 11.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I support the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) and I welcome the Bill. I am grateful to him, because he went out of his way to include in Clause 8 an amendment to the Hares Preservation Act, 1892, to meet a point which I have raised several times, together with some other hon. Members.
During the last year or so hares have become almost a pest in the Eastern Counties, and more of them have been killed in that area in this last year than in the preceding five years. Taking account of this growth in their numbers, and the fact that they also happen to be good to eat and can be kept in refrigeration, it was time to bring the Act up to date.
While expressing my gratitude and hope that the Bill will go through, I also hope that Clause 1 will be closely examined in Committee to see whether it can be made stronger. In 1959, there were 738 injuries, caused by people under the age of 17 with airguns, reported to the police. That is an enormous number. Many of the injured were girls, hurt when the boys were showing how tough they were by handling guns. Clause 1 does a lot, but perhaps we will find in discussion, 860 with the advice of the Home Office and others, that we shall be able to improve it.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member say that he was not deeply devoted to Clause 9, and I hope that it will not be pressed. The Bill would be much improved without it. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) is to oppose the Bill, but we are all speaking for ourselves, and there is no party line on the Bill. I thank the hon. Member for Maldon for introducing the Bill and meeting a point which I have raised several times. I wish him good luck, and hope that, in Committee, the Bill will be strengthened in Clause 1 and improved in its other provisions.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I am delighted to find myself, for once, in complete agreement with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). It is encouraging to those interested in the Bill that he should give it his blessing, because those of us who live in the same part of the country as he does know of the interest that he has in anything to do with the countryside. Like him, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) on producing the Bill. It is an ambitious and lengthy one for a private Member.
I regret, as he does, that in the first instance the Bill had only a moderate press. He has done a lot to remove objections which were voiced when these proposals were first published, and it is gratifying now to see the encouraging press which the Bill has had since people have had an opportunity to study it.
I want to pay particular tribute to the responsible attitude of the gun trade towards the Bill, not only in London but in Birmingham, and including the makers of airguns and of the cheaper weapons. The Gunmakers' Association has accepted from the beginning that what was needed to deal with the problem was parental control and responsibility. Indeed, I believe that if it had been able to, it would have gone further than my hon. Friend and would have tried to introduce legislation to make it compulsory for anyone buying a gun to have a third party insurance.
861 In view of the leading article in the Field, to which my hon. Friend has referred, I think that many parents whose children have shotguns will ponder on this problem of third party insurance when they realise that if a weapon is negligently discharged by a minor, and damages are claimed, it is the parent who is sued and must pay up.
The Bill has the support of the British Field Sports Society. We are glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) here today. I want to say how much he, as chairman of the Society, has done in getting Clauses 2 to 10 of the Bill agreed with the game dealers and with other interested parties. He will agree with me when I say that the Society's shooting committee has certain reservations about Clause 1—reservations which I share to a certain extent.
We must face the fact that Clause 1 will prohibit a certain type of boy, such as a farmer's son, who may well be competent to do so, from shooting on his own in the Christmas holidays while under the age of 15. The House will agree that two boys shooting together at any age are nearly always dangerous, but there is the exceptional case of a boy on his father's land during the Christmas holidays. It is unfortunate, but in view of the terrible damage being done by hooligans with airguns, such a case has to take secondary consideration in the need for Clause 1. I see no way of legislating to avoid that hardship.
I do not think that any hon. Member is in doubt of the need for the Bill, particularly in built-up areas. The matter was clearly brought out in an article in The Times, on 10th September, 1960, under the heading, "Trigger-happy hooligans". The article pointed out that in the Midlands some pigeon fanciers dared not even let their birds out at weekends for fear of getting them shot. The life of a cat, even a most valuable show cat, in any Midlands town today is very precarious should it ever stray from home.
I know that there is a point of view which holds that a person, before being allowed to shoot or to buy a weapon or hold a licence, should have to undergo some sort of test in such things—one has 862 to use Army terms—as field craft, ballistics and bird identification. The Scott Henderson Committee was appointed by the Labour Government to look into the question of field sports in the countryside and to see whether, in their conduct, those who engaged in field sports inflicted any cruelty on wild animals which was not normally there in the course of their natural life.
Hon. Members are familiar with the recommendations of the Scott Henderson Committee and great credit is due, particularly to the British Field Sports Society and the animal welfare associations, that almost all of those recommendations have been complied with. There are not many White Papers presented to us in Parliament which are acted upon so fully or conscientiously. The only matters on which there can still be some criticism are those of shooting pests and of inexperienced shots.
The House will remember Recommendation No. 10, which said:Inexpert shooting causes a great deal of unnecessary suffering. The animal welfare organisations might, therefore, give some consideration to the cruelty involved in shooting and, in conjunction with the British Fields Sports Society, might compile a pamphlet on the proper use of guns and the avoidance of cruelty arising from their use.Recommendation 11 says:It is impossible to attempt to regulate shooting by laying down minimum ranges and other details of this kind …It is not for want of trying that these recommendations have not been entirely implemented. Those hon. Members who have gun or game licences will be familiar with the information printed on the back:Notes to ensure clean kills.That is on the back of every gun and game licence and was put there at the instigation of the animal welfare associations and the British Field Sports Society. There are also excellent pamphlets, distributed free through the county secretaries of the British Fields Sports Society, called "Would you like to go shooting?" and "Let's go wild fowling".
There is another very important aspect to the problem of clean kills and efficient shooting, and that is the need for anybody who goes out shooting to have a dog, because without a dog it is impossible to be certain of picking up wounded and winged game. Everyone will 863 recognise the good done by the British Field Sports Society and the Kennel Club in encouraging the use of gun dogs. In addition, there are now on sale educational productions, for only 2s. 6d., called "Shooting—Know the game".
Many hon. Members may feel that that does not go far enough to meet the recommendations of the Scott Henderson Committee and that there ought to be a book, rather like the Highway Code, sold for 1d., every time a gun licence is issued, and which would be an up-to-date manual on effective ranges and other matters dealing with shooting. However, I do not believe that it will be possible to go much further than that.
Although one is tempted to support the idea in the first place, I cannot see that it will be possible to have a uniform series of shooting tests throughout the country at county level, with people having to pass such a test before they can be entitled to go to a post office and get a gun licence. It would be nearly impossible to have uniformity of tests throughout the whole country with facilities for carrying out those tests.
One must face the fact that Clause 1 is essentially restrictionist and I am not absolutely certain that just by making it illegal for people to use weapons we will achieve a great deal. One has to accept that there is a tremendous demand for guns, for one of the super new air rifles or new shotguns. The Field today carries an advertisement for a shotgun costing £16, which is cheaper than an airgun, which will kill a rabbit at 42 yards and which is equally advertised. People want to buy these weapons and use them and the House has to decide what it can do towards producing more facilities for people who want to shoot.
I do not think that the hooligans people talk about are genuinely criminals from the start. Pest officers, particularly in the Home Counties, are completely swamped with requests for people who have an airgun or a shotgun and who want to use it. Those people start shooting sparrows and other things when there are no facilities for them to use their guns legally.
Throughout the countryside there is an enormous number of disused and neglected ranges, like the rifle ranges of the Territorial Associations, both indoor 864 and outdoor. They are generally dreary places and have even duller and more dreary targets. I do not think that the targets have been brought up to date since after the 1914–18 war. There are the usual khaki silhouettes and the snap targets. We have to try to make those rifle ranges attractive to the person who has just bought a shotgun and we need a new approach to targets and a new approach to the layout of the range and greater use of outdoor facilities.
We must remember that the present rifle range caters only for the enthusiast, for the man who is out to get a very high score on a miniature target and who will go night after night to practise. The man who has just bought an airgun will not join the local rifle club, let alone the Territorial Association, merely to shoot. We have to break down the barrier and channel people who want to shoot into using proper shooting facilities.
We have to give people an opportunity to use their shotguns, as against airguns, legally. We have to ensure an enormous expansion of clay pigeon ranges throughout the countryside, not just the boring sort of ranges where a man stands behind an iron shield and chucks up a lot of clay pigeons. The North London Shooting School has a range in which one walks down a bank with clay pigeons coming out from all directions. We want more ranges like that. I am certain that the land for them can be found.
One has only to consider the vast areas of countryside which the Nature Conservancy has available. In areas which are maintained for the preservation of flora as against fauna, there should be no difficulty about allowing people to have somewhere where they can legally use their shotguns. At present, the facilities for the legal use of shotguns vary from county to county. In some counties the Association of Miniature Rifle Clubs is strong and in others the Wild Fowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland is strong and in others the National Rifle Association has excellent ranges.
To get all those diverse facilities used by everybody, we have to turn to the lords lieutenants of counties. In the old days, they had imposed on them the duty of producing armed men and they could well be asked to review the facilities of 865 the Territorial Army and the voluntary associations in their counties to see if those facilities could not be made available to people who wanted to shoot. People will buy guns and the Bill will not stop the sale of weapons, but only make it difficult for people to use them irresponsibly.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Has the hon. Member made inquiries of the lords lieutenants of counties to find out whether they are willing to undertake this or any other task?
§ Mr. Kimball
I am grateful to the hon. Member for asking that question. Has his attention been drawn to the list which was drawn up on a county basis when the lords lieutenants were asked to organise the Historical Churches Preservation Trust, which they did with great success? They used their local facilities and local voluntary efforts to help to restore the churches, and I cannot see why we cannot ask them to help in this way.
Even though the Bill is restrictionist, we must accept the fact that there is a demand for these weapons and that we have to do something to meet it. It will not be possible to have a series of uniform tests, but it may well be possible that someone will try to administer such a scheme, and, if it were successful, I am certain that the Government would introduce amending legislation to make it necessary for such a test to be passed before a firearms certificate could be issued.
I want to say a word about Clause 3, which I would describe as one more nail in the poacher's coffin. I do not think that anybody in the House will be sentimental about the village poacher, because he is not the kind of person we are talking about. The village poacher, the man who poaches for the pot, quietly using his skill in the covers which he knows well, is not the man who gets caught. The people we are talking about today are the motorised gangs of poachers. The hon. Member for Lincoln will have seen many reports in the Lincolnshire newspapers of motorised gangs from the industrial belt crossing the Trent into Lincolnshire. These are the people we are after.
I hope that people will not forget the vast amount of cruelty involved in 866 motorised poaching. Here, in the first part of the Bill, we are legislating for clean and efficient kill, but what does the motorised poacher do? He stops his car, shoots the pheasants on the stubbles, picks up what is dead and goes. We never see a motorised poacher working a dog down a hedgerow to pick up wounded birds. This poaching is done by organised gangs in a most cruel and callous manner, and I am quite certain that the House no longer has any sympathy whatsoever with the gang poacher.
Clause 3 is aimed at the persistent poacher. There was an article in The Times in December which showed hon. Members how persistent some of these gang poachers can be. Somebody was caught under the Game Laws (Amendment) Act which the House passed last year, under which the penalties have been increased to £50, and this man said that he would continue his unlawful activity and is reputed to have been before the courts thirty times. If this man were caught poaching under this Clause, he would have to forfeit his gun and game licence for the rest of the season. Under the provisions of the previous Clause, if he was shooting without a gun and game licence, the fine is put up from £20 to £50, which, I think most hon. Members will agree, is a substantial fine for what is quite definitely a serious attempt to evade the law.
I want also to deal with the other part of the Bill, and particularly with the question of the register under Clause 7 which is to be kept by game dealers, and which suggests that power should be vested in chief constables to inspect the register in order to try to trace poached game. It is perfectly possible, and I think that the hon. Member for Lincoln will bear me out, that as a result of this Measure and the ability of people nowadays to keep game in a deep freeze throughout the year, we may get a very substantial rise in the price of game through organised marketing. When we think that we can have these horrible broiler chickens which have no taste and do not weigh over 3 lbs. selling for 12s., when a cock pheasant weighing 4½ lbs. with a most delicious taste sells to the housewife for only 6s., and perhaps to the person who shot it for only 4s., we see that, because all game comes on the market in a tremendous glut at one time, the price 867 falls. The same applies to hares, a most delicious and tasty meal, which can be the cheapest food on the market.
By using the methods of the deep freeze, we can have game coming into the market throughout the whole year, and as a result there would be an increase in the price. Our ancestors were very wise, and whatever may be said about the 1831 Game Act, it was always assumed that, provided the numbers of game were low enough, we could restrict poaching. I think that that is an out-dated attitude today when we have these modern methods of preserving game. We have only to look at the success of the Scottish Landowners' Federation's scheme in Scotland, which has, within a year, put up the price of venison to the person who shoots it from 11d. to 1s. 9d. per lb., which was commented upon in an article in The Times last November, to see how successful organised marketing can be. Once we improve the market for game, we improve the value of the shoot, and increase the rent that people can get for it, and there is a general improvement all round.
To safeguard people who are legally shooting—and I have been told this by policemen in Lincolnshire, who have a great knowledge of this problem—this idea of a register of game dealers, so that the police can trace any sudden influx of poached game, will be very helpful and is, indeed, essential. There is no question of the Home Office being asked to have an enforcement squad, and no question of finance involved. It is purely a question of asking the game dealers to keep registers of the names and addresses of those with game licences from whom they obtain their birds.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) is not here today, because I should like to pay tribute to the work which he did in getting this Clause agreed with the game dealers in London. I am sorry that I have detained the House so long, but this is a very good Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on this attempt to deal with the airgun menace and drive one more nail into the gang poachers' coffin. I hope that, after due consideration in Committee, the Bill will eventually reach the Statute Book as a 868 very valuable addition to the laws which govern our countryside on this matter.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
May I ask my hon. Friend a question? Can he tell me where cock pheasants can be bought for 6s.?
§ Mr. Kimball
I would advise my hon. Friend to motor up towards the M.1, through Hampstead, the week before Christmas, when he will see an advertisement of a fishmonger offering cock pheasants at 6s.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I, too, would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) on introducing this Bill. I want to confine myself to a question that I know something about.
The hon. Member for Maldon is particularly to be congratulated in attempting to deal with a menace which has been facing us for a very considerable time. Questions have been asked in the House about the serious and damaging effects of the activities of youngsters with airguns and shotguns in their possession. I remember the very interesting illustration that was given by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), a former Attorney-General, who told the House that he had actually been able to obtain a shotgun licence for a child of three. That shows immediately the absurdity of the position as it exists at present.
I was a little surprised at the kind of support that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) gave to Clause 1. It seemed to me to be something of a "broken reed" support, because, far from trying to emphasise what had already been very ably put by the promoter of the Bill, it seemed to me that he was asking whether it was necessary to have Clause 1 at all. On the contrary, he seemed to suggest that we should get as many guns as possible, provided the man was able to pass a test.
That seems to me to be a rather peculiar kind of logical, if it is logical, support for Clause 1. If we are to give a licence to a youngster who can shoot, it seems to me that his aim will probably be more accurate when he wants to destroy a lamp or aim at a certain 869 target than the fellow who cannot shoot. So far as I can see, unless there is some peculiar explanation for this, this will not help Clause 1 at all.
§ Mr. Kimball
That was not really the point I was trying to make at all. Clause 1 is restrictive, but not in the form of stopping people buying guns. We still have to allow them to use them, and I tried to show that a test would not be satisfactory. All that can be done, practically, on tests has been done.
§ Sir B. Janner
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but that was the inference I drew from his speech. If I was mistaken in doing so, I withdraw what I have said.
We must consider the trend which is taking place at present among youngsters who are otherwise quite decent boys, but who are given opportunities for doing damage. I agree that while these opportunities exist the parents are to blame, to a considerable extent, if damage is done. Nevertheless, the important thing is to prevent these boys having weapons in their hands, which they can use to do damage. I would have gone a little further than the provisions of the Bill do, but I realise that it is a step in the right direction.
I would have said that the provisions of Clause 1 should be extended to persons up to the age of 17. The Clause provides that a child below the age of 15 may use a gun if he is accompanied by a person who is aged at least 17. That indicates that a person under the age of 17 is not the type of person who would be able to control the use of a gun by a lad below the age of 15. Consequently, it would seem that the age limit for the use of a gun should be 17. I would have put the age limit even higher, but at least that should be the lowest age.
If we are to provide that a boy using a gun should be accompanied by somebody over the age of 17 it indicates that anybody below that age is not a proper person to look after another person below the age of 15, and is, therefore, not in a position to look after himself adequately if he goes off on his own with a gun.
The Association of Municipal Corporations, a very important organisation, of which I have the honour to be a vice-president, has been considering the problem for a long time, and has collated 870 information which, I believe, will be valuable to the House. I want to refer to some of the information which has been gathered. On 1st June, 1959, High Wycombe Borough Council referred to the fact that a lot of damage seemed to be done to street lights and similar fittings by young people using air rifles or air pistols. On 30th December, 1959, the Dudley County Borough Council suggested that legislation should be introduced to keep airguns out of the hands of children, and in due course supported its view by reference to local incidents. I shall refer to those later, if I have time.
On 28th July, 1960, the Borough of Ellesmere Port reported with alarm the growing number of youths who frequent public parks, open spaces and agricultural land in the rural parts of the borough to amuse themselves by shooting wild life and other objects. On 13th December, 1960, it was reported, the Barnsley Borough Council was perturbed by the ever-rising cost caused by wanton damage to street lighting fittings and, in particular, the replacement costs of damaged lanterns. It was of the opinion that a considerable amount of damage arose from the fact that there was little restriction on the use of firearms, especially air rifles, by young persons.
The Association, in December, 1960, expressed to the Home Office its concern about the extent of damage and personal injury caused by the misuse of air rifles and other weapons used by young persons. In an Answer on 24th November last the Under-Secretary stated:The number of cases reported to the police in England and Wales of personal injury from airguns fired by persons under the age of 17 was 501 in 1956, 648 in 1957, 719 in 1958 and 738 in 1959."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 1284.]The Association also thinks that a restriction should be imposed up to the age of 17.
Time after time cases have occurred in Leicester in which very serious damage has been done to persons through the use by youngsters of shotguns or air rifles. These have been brought to my notice on many occasions by constituents and by the persons who have been concerned with these cases and have found that they present a serious menace. I do not want to make a parochial issue of this, because it is not one. These 871 cases occur throughout the length and breadth of the country.
I want to give some illustrations from the many that have come to my notice. A man writing from Somerton says:A short time ago, my wife, who was confined to her bed, by reason of a very serious accident in the home, had very dangerous splinters of glass scattered over the bed, and the wall of the room, near her head, by a leaden slug fired through the window of the room, by a boy of about 11 years of age, one of several others of a similar age, who were shooting these weapons near the public highway used by a large number of motor vehicles, which might have resulted in a very serious, or fatal accident.A constituent of mine, Mr. G. A. Edington, expresses similar deep concern about the protection of animal life, as well as human life, and has approached me on many occasions. The writer goes on to say that each morning and evening he feeds the wild birds, and he complains bitterly about the wanton destruction not only of wild but of tame birds which is taking place in his area.
In Market Harborough, a boy aged 8 was brought before the courts, together with two others. Two of them had had airguns, and after a conversation one boy had been shot in the arm. He had to be operated on in Leicester Royal Infirmary for the removal of the pellet. There was another serious accident in the Leicester area in which a youngster was killed because another youngster used a rifle of this nature in sport. I realise that this was an accident, but these opportunities to use guns should not be placed in the hands of even innocent and non-vicious youngsters.
I now take an illustration from an entirely different area. A person writing from Ham, in Surrey, states that a 15year-old boy lost an eye after being hit by an airgun pellet, and in Croydon a boy aged 11 was shot under the eye by a 15-year-old boy with an airgun.
Another boy lost an eye and was also hit in the body. In addition houses were fired on. The next example is of gangs of boys dressed in Wyatt Earp costumes, who ambushed three schoolboys going home from school. They were armed with airguns, and one of the schoolboys lost an eye. At Bethnal Green, a boy of six was made a target, and ducks and other poultry were killed by being used as targets by youngsters.
872 In Woking, a boy who was used for target practice by a youth armed with an air pistol had a pellet removed from his hand. In addition, armed gangs of boys roam the country at the weekend threatening violence and shooting wildly.
Some people may consider that the objection being put forward is intended to deprive young people from having a healthy interest in life. That is not the intention, but if we do not, by more positive methods, which I would support, stop the issue of licences, which I would support, let us do something to stop the damage about which is becoming much more extensive until we do stop the licences from being granted.
On 21st June, 1960, an article appeared in the Express & Star headed "Gun Law." It said:The children of Willenhall would seem to have had a surfeit of television entertainment with a Western flavour, judging by the excesses indulged in by some youngsters with air rifles. Councillors who heard last night that children aged nine and ten were carrying air rifles in the streets 'shooting at random' could have been excused for thinking for a brief, mad moment, that they were the town fathers of Dodge City or some other American frontier town in the Roaring Eighties.Indeed, it would appear that there is a need for a few Marshal Earps in the shapes of heavy handed and determined fathers. The damaging of 68 gas lamps in three months, the shooting of prize pigeons and the perforating of a sheet hanging in the garden rather indicate that unless some summary parental law and order aid the authorities in bringing to book the young gunslingers concerned, the latter may extend their range of targets from property to people.…The circumstances also suggest that there should be some control over the sale of the airguns with which the young desperadoes are armed."Young desperadoes" is a strong term. These youngsters are probably looking for a certain amount of excitement, the kind of excitement afforded by shotguns and firearms, but they are not criminally inclined. Nevertheless, the possession of firearms is conducive to juvenile crime in the same way as the possession of a flick knife often leads to an offence being committeed. It is true, of course, that we cannot stop young thugs from using flick knives, or other instruments, because whatever we do they will still get hold of them. Nevertheless, it is important to try to stop those who otherwise would not do any damage from getting these weapons and causing 873 damage because of their childish search for excitement.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I appreciate what my hon. Friend is saying, but this Clause applies only to persons under 15. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that much of the damage is done by people over 15?
§ Sir B. Janner
I am sure that my hon. Friend was listening carefully to what I said, but he must have overlooked that I suggested raising the age to 17, even though half of a loaf is better than none. Or perhaps, in this case, it is a case of 90 per cent. of the loaf being better than nothing.
I have given examples of youngsters under 15 doing damage. The final example I shall refer to is that of the boy to whom I referred earlier. A 14-year old Leicester boy was involved in a shooting accident. At the time he was accompanied by a friend.
§ Sir B. Janner
Yes, it was in November, 1959. The examples which I have given must surely lead the House to conclude that what is being asked for in the Bill is essential.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) to have that enormous weapon?
§ Mr. Speaker
At the moment, I do not know. It does not have the appearance of a newspaper. It might be a pedigree, but I do not know enough about it to regard it as out of order for the moment.
§ Mr. Mackie
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The document kept me awake in the Library yesterday because the right hon. and learned Gentleman was rustling it all the time. I think that something should be done about it.
§ Sir B. Janner
I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend, and I hope it will not be taken as a breach in the party if I say that I do not agree with him because I believe that the right 874 hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has some useful information on that sheet of paper which is larger than foolscap size.
I feel deeply about this question, and have done for a long time. I know that other hon. Members share my view. I know, also, that considerable sympathy has been extended by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State and that although the Home Office has not acted as quickly as one might wish—that is perhaps an understatement—we hope that not only will it accept what is contained in this Clause, but will give us the benefit of its experience and knowledge of what is happening to strengthen the Clause in the manner in which I have suggested.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
After the excellent way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and the blessings which it has received from all hon. Members who have spoken, there is not a great deal to be said.
I must declare an interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) referred to the British Field Sports Society having had an interest in the Bill. I am chairman of that Society. My hon. Friend also referred to the fact that on the back of the existing game licence there is a note on shooting and some suggestions for ensuring clean kills. It was prepared by the Society in consultation with the R.S.P.C.A. and the Universities Federation of Animal Welfare. I hope that this sensible getting together in the interests of humanity in shooting will result in sensible things such as that document being produced in future. This piece of writing on the licence came in, I think, at the time when the present Lord Chancellor was Home Secretary.
I have also a licence issued in the United States of America. Something on the same lines is printed on it. There is an admonition to "Mr. Sportsman" to be careful with firearms, matches and fires. I commend this form of licence to my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary. It is a little brown cardboard document which fits neatly into a notecase, much more easily than the loose piece of white paper on which 875 the British licence is printed. But that is only by the way.
The Bill has had the blessing, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, of the Field, which is much respected throughout the land. It has also had the blessing of the Shooting Times, which is also much respected in the shooting world. The opinions of those publications are to be highly respected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough referred to the question of tests and the Scott Henderson Report. I agree with him that to have tests for the young man is not really a practical proposition. I do not see how such tests could be carried out. I think that the only way to teach a boy is by going out into the field and speaking to him if he is not carrying a gun or working with a gun safely.
I have three sons of my own, the youngest of whom will be over the age before this Bill could be on the Statute Book. I also have three grandsons who, in due course, might also shoot one day. I have always been interested in shooting, but I cannot say that I was ever good at school in what is known as "saying lessons". But I will quote to the House a few lines of doggerel which, I think, has a bearing on safety, and which I was made to learn. It is called "A father's advice" and it runs:If a sportsman true you be, listen carefully to meNever never let your gun pointed be at anyoneThough it might unloaded be, matters not the least to meWhen a hedge or fence you cross, tho of time it cause a lossFrom your gun the cartridge take, for the greatest safety sake.There are, in fact, three more verses with which I will not weary the House, but I recommend them to anyone teaching the young.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, Clause 1, if passed, would mean that a boy under the specified age of 15 could go out shooting in the country only if somebody was in charge of him. In some instances, that might, as my hon. Friend said, lead to a little difficulty in the isolated countryside. On balance, however, I think it a wise provision in the interest of the 876 population generally. Clause 1 states that a parent or a guardian must be the person responsible or a person over the age of 17 who holds a game or gun licence.
It is just possible that a boy might not have any parents and that his guardian might be 5,000 miles away. I should like to see incorporated in the Bill the provision that the parent or guardian, if unable to accompany the boy, should be able to authorise someone else to take the boy out on his behalf.
It is a most difficult thing, when out shooting in the field, to tell someone he is acting dangerously if he is the same age as oneself. This sometimes applies to all ages. I should think that it might be difficult for a boy of 17 to tell his younger brother, or someone else of 14 years of age, that he was being exceedingly dangerous. It might be wiser to provide that a boy must be accompanied by a person older than 17. However, that is a matter that could be considered in Committee.
The Clause dealing with cold storage, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, brings up to date matters which have become completely out of date since the advent of cold storage and deep freeze plants. I think that it will be a generally accepted and useful Clause.
Doubts have been expressed about Clause 9, which deals with the question of the opening of packages of game. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that too much opening of packages might lead to misunderstanding and needs further looking at.
On the question of keeping a register, I can see the point, but I feel that for the small game dealer, as the village grocer, it may possibly involve unnecessary work. However, that is a point which can be further considered in Committee. I will not detain the House longer and will close by joining with other hon. Members on both sides of the House in wishing the Bill well.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I am going to introduce a slightly discordant note into this otherwise happy party in opposing the Bill unless its sponsors are prepared to alter it very considerably. I should not like anyone to think that I am in favour of indiscriminate shooting, but the Bill is either 877 very cleverly presented or very innocently presented, although the presenter does not look to me to be all that innocent. The Bill is being used to get through Clauses affecting the game laws which, in my opinion, are archaic and should be done away with.
On the subject of the use of guns, I could not agree more with what has been said and that something must be done about the matter. But that matter should be dealt with in a separate Bill, because it has nothing to do with the game laws at all. I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends seem to have been taken in by the Bill in that respect.
§ Sir B. Janner
I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I made it perfectly clear that I was not competent to deal with the other Clauses. I always do my best not to deal with matters of which I have not some knowledge.
§ Mr. Mackie
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says.
On the question of young people shooting, I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) that to have some kind of test is very difficult indeed. I think he will agree that the younger the person is when he learns to shoot the better. I have never seen a good shot who started late in life. I, like the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Morrison), have three sons, one of whom has not reached the age suggested. I can see a lot of hardship being involved if someone has to accompany him all the time. I think that the age should be reduced to 14. In my opinion, boys of this age, provided they are shooting on land tenanted or owned by their father or guardian, should be allowed out alone.
I agree that something must be done in connection with the manufacturers of airguns, air rifles and small bore shotguns, but that matter should be dealt with in a separate Bill altogether.
I now come to the other nine Clauses which deal with game. Clause 2 increases the penalty. I know that a lot of game poaching is done by gangs. It is difficult to stop. An increase in the penalty only makes it harder on the local poacher, for whom I think the hon. Member for Gainsborough had a certain amount of sympathy. Nevertheless, it is harsh simply because we 878 have these gangs who should be controlled by the police instead of by an archaic game law.
What case can be made out for something which was done in, I think, 1831?
§ Mr. Kimball
We are dealing with the Game Licences Act, 1860, not with the game laws of 1831. It is a very different thing.
§ Mr. Mackie
I do not see any difference. The purpose is to put restrictions on people which in these days, whether it be property——
§ Mr. Mackie
It is not rubbish. It was simply to protect wild life which was considered game by some people. There is not much difference between rabbits, pigeons, or game meat of any kind. This game law should be done away with. Why should the ordinary man have to pay £3 to shoot a partridge? It is nonsense. The object of Clauses 3 and 4 is simply to apply harsher treatment to anyone who does this. I would do away with the game licence altogether.
Why should we treat game differently from the other things that we eat in this country? The advent of the deep freeze has made it all the more impossible to, enforce the game laws. What is the object of this 40-day law? I disagree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough, who says that it is to level out the prices. I believe that it is an attempt to try to put up the prices at the beginning of the season so that the first grouse make the fantastic prices which they do. Suppose I started to rear broiler pheasants. Must I stop rearing them forty days before pheasant shooting begins? As I say, these game laws are quite ridiculous.
Clause 7 deals with a register that every game dealer or anyone who sells game must keep. I thought that hon. Members opposite were keen on the freedom of the individual and that they have always been against forms and returns of all descriptions. Yet they propose that people carrying on a legitimate trade should keep a register just because game has been the preserve of the few. The same applies to Clause 8. We now have broiler rabbits. Soon we shall have broiler hares. How can we legislate for this sort of thing? I am certain that 879 these laws will become absolutely out of date as we get more and more of this kind of production.
Like every other hon. Member who has spoken, I thought Clause 9 to be something of a joke. It is awful to think that every parcel carried by the local carrier in a country district could be looked into to see whether there was a pheasant inside it for one's friends. I am certain that this provision will not get past the Committee stage.
I believe that 99.9 per cent, of the people attach little or no importance to the preservation, rearing, shooting and selling of game. The number of those who believe that it is important do so out of all proportion. There is a small number of people who would like to have a shot occasionally. They are barred in every way because of the lack of facilities. The reason why people shoot at cats and pigeons and things of that sort is that there is little possibility for the ordinary man in this country to get in a day's shooting. America has been held up to us as a land of freedom. Shooting is more or less State-controlled there. One buys a permit and can then shoot certain things. I should like to see a similar system in this country. I would nationalise shooting—I know that hon. Members opposite do not like the word—so that anyone who has permission to have a gun can buy a permit to shoot. That would give a facility to people who want to shoot which they cannot get today.
§ Mr. B. Harrison
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that if a licence to shoot were issued then people should be free to go over any land, like the hon. Gentleman's own farmland, to shoot simply because they have a licence to do so. It is an interesting point, particularly in a place with a population density like that of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Mackie
No, I do not suggest that at all. Shooting would be controlled by gamekeepers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course it would. One would buy a permit for a day's shooting which would be controlled. The same thing happens in the United States and in many other countries. In this country it is the preserve of the people who own the land, not of those who are willing to pay for their sport.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
What the hon. Member is saying is interesting. I understand that what he is suggesting is that one should be able to buy a permit for one day's shooting, as in America. This must be to shoot over somebody's land. There are great spaces in America which are not developed on a personal basis. In this country all land is individually owned. Would the hon. Gentleman be happy if anyone were allowed to walk over his land in quest of game because he bought the right to a day's shooting from a central authority? Would he allow this to happen if there were cattle with foot-and-mouth disease on his neighbour's land?
§ Mr. Mackie
The hon. Gentleman is opening up a very wide subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman started it."] I was merely pointing out why people were frustrated because of not having a day's shooting shoot cats, tame pigeons, and so on. If we were a democratic country we would have a system under which the shooting rights belonged to the State and shooting was controlled by State gamekeepers. I would have no objection to anyone coming over my land. I have been a tenant farmer and the landlord's shooting tenants have gone over the farm, foot-and-mouth or not. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman need not take that attitude. I can produce the Aberdeen Press and Journal to show the fury of the farmers during the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease when landlords and their shooting tenants paid no attention whatsoever to the restrictions. I will make a point of ensuring that the hon. Gentleman receives a copy of the publication so that he may see what happened.
In conclusion, I believe that, instead of amending the Game Licences Act, it should be done away with and that Clause 1 of the Bill should be made an Act by itself. I am afraid that I cannot support the Bill unless that is done.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Lady Gammans (Hornsey)
I am glad to have the opportunity to support the Bill, especially as it affects the welfare and safety of young people. I shall confine the few words I say to Clause 1.
I think that most of us are disturbed about the amount of violence in these 881 days, especially when weapons of all sorts are used. Many people have attributed that violence to the bad influence of films and television, but I think that the films and television are only a reflection of the violent period in which we live, a period of great change and upheaval all over the world. Most of us have been very concerned about the effect of all this on young minds and about the dangers surrounding it. When young people are criticised today, as they often are, I think it well to remember that they are awakening to life in a most uncertain period of our history and are called upon to contemplate a present and a future which are anything but certain and which appal some adults as well.
With this in mind, I have been very much concerned for some time about the weapons available to young people. I have put down several Parliamentary Questions on the subject in an effort to see what could be done to make it more difficult for young people to acquire guns, knives and other weapons of that sort. In 1958 I asked the Home Secretary, in view of the great increase in crimes of violence, if he would consider an amnesty for the surrender of firearms such as that which was given in 1946, in an effort to keep down the acquisition of second-hand weapons. My right hon. Friend turned down the suggestion then and did so again in the following year. To my mind, many second-hand weapons of all kinds come into the hands of young people. Very often those weapons are not suitable for anyone to use, let alone young people.
Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to prohibit the use of a gun by a person under the age of 15 unless accompanied by his parent or guardian, or by some authorised person. I have always held the view that if young people are to learn anything they should learn it in the natural way. The natural and ideal way for a boy or a girl is to go out with the father into the country to learn to shoot. As an hon. Member opposite said, if a boy does that at an early age he will he proficient and have a feeling of confidence in using a gun. The provision in the Clause of 15 as the age at which a boy should start to shoot is good because before that time all kinds of accidents can arise which perhaps a child would not think about.
882 The probability is that, if there are sufficient safeguards about acquiring guns, the weapons will be used for the purpose for which they are intended and not for killing or wounding people, nor for killing or wounding animals indiscriminately. On my farm in Sussex I have seen animals shot at and not shot properly and cleanly. I know what a terrible sight that can be.
I have spoken only about this one aspect of the Bill and have no intention of making a long speech, but I feel that in this age when we hear every day of so much violence around us we should try to control it. To my mind, the safeguards set out in the Bill are very good as a means of ensuring that.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
It is a great pleasure to be able to agree for once with the hon. Lady the Member for Hornsey (Lady Gammans), and also to be able to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), that this Bill appears to be two Bills in one. With my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East, I would have preferred that Clause 1 were a separate Bill altogether.
Only this morning I had a letter from a constituent who is a member of the British Trust for Ornithology and the East Lancashire Ornithologists Club. He is the father of youngs boys and is concerned not only about the shooting of birds, but with the safety of boys who use guns. I started to shoot before I was 15, but I did not shoot at animals in the open air. I shot privately in a controlled rifle range. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East that it is desirable to start shooting early, but not in the open at game or anything else.
Unfortunately, it has become a little easier for certain guns to be acquired, particularly of the airgun type. I do not know whether they would come under the heading of firearms, but I notice that the Bill refers simply to "guns" and that might include air-guns. Nowadays, it is not difficult for boys of 14 to get hold of airguns which can be dangerous, and even lethal, weapons. That is all the more reason for some kind of legislation to restrict their use.
I would much have preferred Clause 1 to have been a separate Bill, with no 883 attempt to deal with the game laws which should be dealt with separately. Amendment of the game laws is far too complicated a matter to be dealt with in a Private Member's Bill. If that is done at all it should be done in a Government Bill. I would not oppose this Bill, however, because I am interested in Clause 1 and perhaps, in Committee, the other Clauses can be elminated.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
As the House will have gathered, opinions on this Bill differ on these benches. It must not be supposed that, because I am speaking from the Opposition Front Bench on this occasion, I am voicing the opinions held by all my hon. Friends. Some take the view I take and, as the House will have gathered from the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), some take a slightly different view.
I share very much the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie). If Clause 1 stood alone, I think that the whole House would have wished to have seen it have a happy and unopposed Second Reading and carried into law. I think it a great pity that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) did not follow the lead which was taken in recent Sessions by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West, who successfully introduced two Bills dealing with flick knives and specifically devised to prevent hooliganism by young people. In so far as Clause 1 of the Bill is designed to serve a similar purpose, we all wish it well.
Therefore, I regret that the hon. Member for Gainsborough was not content with what would have been a very useful piece of legislative reform, but thought it necessary to use that Clause as an excuse for trying to enact further Clauses designed to amend the game laws, which raise totally different and controversial issues. I am opposed to nearly all the other Clauses because I regard them as legislation based upon class distinction of a most regrettable and offensive kind. I am not sure whether the hon. 884 Member and his supporters have done that consciously or unconsciously, but, whether it was conscious or unconscious, it seems to me highly undesirable and not a proper subject for inclusion in this Private Member's Bill.
I will indicate shortly why I say that. If one looks at those Clauses one sees that they pick out two totally different offences under the existing law. In the one case, they propose a savage increase in the penalties, and in the other case they propose a total remission of penalties. The hon. Member said that Clauses 6 and 7 are designed to change the law for those who own deep freezers, and he admitted that he was one of those who had been transgressing the present law by keeping game in a deep freezer for periods which at present are unlawful.
That may be a very desirable reform of the law, but it is a reform which is designed to assist a relatively small and privileged class of people who own deep freezers. What about the humble poacher? The hon. Member proposes increased penalties on the humble poacher. He and his hon. Friends said, "We hope that we shall hear nothing sentimental about the humble poacher", but they did not say a word about Clause 2. The person who owns a deep freezer and keeps game in it for a long period is just as much a law breaker as is a poacher. I do not take the view that it is more heinous or morally objectionable for the village poacher to do a day's poaching than it is for the hon. Member to break the law by keeping game in a deep freezer. If we are to change the law in one respect we should be consistent about it and we should not adopt a totally different attitude towards the privileged few from that which we adopt towards the humble man in the village who does a day's poaching. That is why I think that the hon. Member's whole approach to the problem is mistaken.
I am prepared to admit that there is a case for the complete overhaul of the game laws and that laws which were enacted in 1831 and 1860 are out of date; one is over 130 years old and the other is over 100 years old. But if they are to be amended and reformed, it should be done in a considered and rational Measure of overhaul introduced by the Government rather than in this 885 casual one-sided manner based upon these invidious distinctions.
Let us look at Clause 2, which I regard as one of the most offensive Clauses in the Bill, although I shall say a word or two later about Clauses 7 and 9, about which reservations have been expressed and which I am certain cannot commend themselves to the Home Secretary. Why should we suddenly, after one hundred years, increase the penalty from £20 to £50 under the Game Licences Act, 1860? Indeed, why is a game licence necessary at all? Why should there be a game licence?
I agree that a man ought to have a gun licence in order to carry a gun, in the same way as it may be right that he should have a dog licence in order to own a dog, but what is the basis of a game licence? I understand the purpose of the television and wireless licences, which are designed largely for revenue-producing purposes. Is it suggested that the sole object of a game licence is to produce revenue? Is it not a fact that the game licence is a subtle way of protecting the game which a landlord happens temporarily to have on his land, but which is not his property? There is no right of property in game until it has been killed. If we are told that the object of the game licence is to produce revenue, then we ought to be told how much revenue it produces and whether the amount of the game licence is the same as it was in 1860. I believe that it is. I have here a copy of the 1860 Act in which the licence was fixed at £3 and it is still £3. Having regard to the fall in the value of money since 1860, if the object of the licence fee is revenue producing, then it seems to me curious that no Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last hundred years has thought it desirable to review the amount of that fee.
If a game licence of £3 is reasonable today, it must have been prohibitive in 1860. I have a shrewd suspicion that a hundred years ago it was fixed at a fee which was prohibitive and which was intended to be prohibitive and to defeat the activities of the honest, reputable, village poacher who occasionally wanted "one for the pot".
§ Mr. Fletcher
I did not intend to use the word "poacher "in any derogatory sense. I ought to disclose that I have done a certain amount of poaching in my earlier days—and I am not ashamed of it. I do not regard it as any more serious to do a day's poaching than it is to break the law by keeping game in a deep freeze.
If we are to review the game laws, I have much sympathy with the point expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East. They need overhauling. The hon. Member for Gains-borough was right to draw a distinction between the casual poaching which I did in my youth on a bicycle or on foot and poaching by motorised gangs. The motorised gangs were not known in 1860, because the motor car had not been invented. It may well be that there is a case for dealing with the motorised gangs who are said to have come into existence in recent years. I have no evidence that they have come into existence on a large scale, but I do not dispute what hon. Members have said about them. If they have become a serious problem. it may well be necessary to review the law about motorised gangs and to revise the Act of 1860, but in attempting to deal with that problem we should not savagely increase penalties on the honest village poacher whose forebears have done a little poaching through the centuries. We must not assume that what is sometimes called poaching creates any criminal offence at all. We have the presence here of the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the former Attorney-General, and he will correct me if I am wrong.
The House should be reminded that the Acts of 1831 and 1860 were designed as a matter of privilege for privileged classes in order to try to exclude people living in villages from exercising what I regard as ordinary common law rights of shooting game, if they found it, without infringing anybody's rights of property.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
The hon. Gentleman has developed an interesting argument, but if he would look a little further back than the legal authorities which he mentioned, I think that he will find that the present game licence was a successor in law to the original game certificate, which goes back much further. I speak 887 now from memory and subject to correction, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will find, if he looks at the original terms of the game certificate, that it goes back well before poachers or anyone else commonly shot birds—or certainly before they were shot on the wing—because the wording was,to kill and take game by dog, gun, net or other engineThese words were provided mainly not on account of shooting but on account of the taking of game in any way. Shooting was only the second of those four methods. He will find that the game certificate was originally for the control of the taking of game. I ask him to accept that the 1860 Act was a revenue-producing Measure which was brought in to take the place of the game certificate, and to replace it with a game licence. At the same time it imposed a licence fee which was fixed at £3. It did not add in any way to the control of poachers or others who wished to take game because that had been controlled for many years, perhaps centuries, by the original game certificate.
§ Mr. Fletcher
At one time I thought that it might be of interest to the House for me to trace the history of this subject back to Anglo-Saxon days. I have read what Pollock and Maitland said in their "History of English Law" and studied Holdsworth's "History of English Law". I decided that it would be trespassing too much on the indulgence of the House if I inflicted on it an epitomy of the history of this fascinating subject which goes back to Anglo-Saxon days and which is very much bound up with feudal tenure and the manorial system which operated centuries ago. I came to the conclusion that fascinating though that subject is—and tempted though I am by the hon. Member's intervention to regale the House with some of this history—it would not be appropriate to deal with it.
The hon. Member is right when he says that the licence succeeded the certificate. Perhaps I may point out an interesting feature of the certificate by quoting from the recognised text book on game laws by Oke:The Game Act of 1831 abolished all qualifications by reason of estate or otherwise to entitle a person to kill game in England.888 Before 1831, as a relic of the feudal system, there were laws which forbade the killing of game unless one had some property qualification, just as before the Great Reform Act of 1832 people were not entitled to vote in this country unless they had some property qualification. In the last 130 years we have gradually swept away all those suffrage qualifications.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that we are getting miles away from game licences, gun licences and miscellaneous provisions.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The only relevance is that the Game Act, 1831, was passed at about the same time as the Reform Act, 1832. Whereas the Reform Act has been gradually extended and liberalised, the Game Act, 1831, has not been revised, except in a restrictive extent in which it was revised in the Game Licences Act, 1860.
I think that those Acts are due for a complete modernisation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East said, because they are relics of the feudal system and are completely out of date. They are relics of an era of privilege which we have abandoned in other matters and which we do not want to retain in this limited field. I am, therefore, perfectly disposed to see a complete review of the game Acts, but I object to this piecemeal, prejudiced and one-sided attempt to review them by increasing the penalties on poor people while absolving the well-to-do from the provisions of existing laws.
I pass to other Clauses in the Bill which seem to me to be equally undesirable for other reasons. Clause 7 imposes an obligation on all merchants and others dealing in game to keep a register. That seems to me to be an intolerable hardship to impose upon provision merchants whether in the big cities, the local villages or anywhere else, and it will involve them in a great deal of trouble and expense.
§ Mr. Kimball
It does not apply to provision merchants. It will apply only to the holder of a licence to deal in game.
§ Mr. Fletcher
One of the provisions of the Bill refers to imported game. No doubt that is a very laudable matter 889 to deal with, but I do not know the extent of it. From inquiries that I have been able to make I am quite sure that this provision requiring licensed game dealers to keep a register of every partridge, etc., sent to them is regarded as an intolerable nuisance and quite unnecessary. This again is a piecemeal way of legislating.
I have no strong views about Clause 8, particularly as I understand that it was designed to meet a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. Clause 9 seems to me to be one of the most objectionable Clause ever introduced into a Private Member's Bill. It purports to give any constable the right to open any package that is sent through the post, merely to make sure that it does not contain a partridge.
§ Mr. B. Harrison
Is the lion. Gentleman aware that its wording is copied from the Socialist Government's Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act?
§ Mr. Fletcher
No doubt that is a very good Act, but it deals with a totally different subject and was enacted for very good reasons. I do not know whether the hon. Member supported or opposed it. Perhaps he will tell us; but presumably he supported it.
§ Mr. Fletcher
No doubt the hon. Gentleman would have supported it if he had been here. It deals with a totally different subject, in which national interests are involved. It was a Government Measure. Surely we are not to be told that the Government are supporting Clause 9 in the national interest. I should be very surprised if the Home Secretary advises the House to approve Clause 9, because it would give the police power to open all packages merely to see if they contained a rabbit or a partridge. This would be a monstrous invasion of ordinary recognised rights and civil liberties merely to serve the not very deserving interests of a very limited class of the community.
I was interrupted when I was dealing with Clause 7. As I understand the Clause, it cannot operate without a good deal of co-operation from the Home Office. It refers to Regulations which will have to be prescribed. Does the Home Office really intend to take 890 responsibility for making Regulations prescribing rules and enforcing them in order to ensure that every game dealer keeps a register of all the game that comes to him, even if it is only for a day's storage or a week's storage or for a period of forty days if the Act is amended?
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Is there any real reason nowadays why a dealer in game should be licensed? I cannot see any justification for it.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have no reason to suppose that there is. I do not know why it is more necessary to have a licence to deal in game than to deal in fish or other commodities. My hon. Friend has raised a very pertinent point. I do not think that it is necessary that there should be any game licence. Nor do I think that it is obvious at first blush why a dealer must have a licence to deal in game. I can well understand why someone must have a licence to sell alcohol or tobacco, because revenue considerations are involved there. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why a dealer must have a licence to deal in game. Is it for revenue reasons or for other reasons? If the licences are required for revenue reasons, how much revenue is produced by the licences that have to be bought by dealers in game?
I shrewdly suspect, without having examined the matter at any length, that we should find that here again the requirement that a dealer must have a licence to deal in game was conceived and designed merely in the interests of protecting a very limited, small and privileged section of the community and is now no longer required for any national purpose. The objections which surrounded its introduction will merely be intensified if the hon. Member's Bill succeeds, because it will not only perpetuate licences to deal in game. It will mean that dealers will have to keep a register. They will have to observe Regulations. They can be penalised. This seems to me to be using a hammer to crack a nut.
I had intended to deal with all the Clauses. I believe that I have done so, with the exception of Clause 3. This seems to be open to precisely the same objections as Clause 2, and I oppose it for the same reason.
891 The only Clause in the later part of the Bill which deserves any support at all is Clause 5. This is a very odd Clause. I was sorry that the hon. Member did not tell us a little more about it. I am completely unable to understand the part of the Explanatory Memorandum which deals with Clause 5. I welcome it because it appears to be a liberalising Clause, but the Explanatory Memorandum says:Clause 5 removes a double penalty; section twenty-three of the Act of 1831 provides that a penalty thereunder for shooting game without a licence is to be in addition to a penalty under the Game Licences Act, 1860, for the same offence.On the face of it, it is very difficult to understand how an Act of 1831 can make reference to an Act of 1860, but the Explanatory Memorandum says that the Act of 1831 provides that a penalty under the Act of 1831 shall be in addition to a penalty under an Act passed twenty-nine years later. It is ridiculous on the face of it.
§ Mr. Kimball
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that this is a liberalising Clause. On the suggestion of people who have great knowledge of dealing with these matters, the Clause will rectify the state of affairs in which someone can be fined twice for the same offence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that he is now making a Committee drafting point. I hope that he will not penalise the Bill on this ground. He knows the difficulty that private Members have in getting Bills drafted. The intention is there.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Indeed I know the difficulties private Members have. I thought it desirable to refer to this matter because it is such an alarming incongruity on the face of it. I said that in so far as the Clause has a beneficial effect by removing a double penalty I welcome it.
However, it seems to be indicative of the extreme harshness of the game laws that for at least a hundred years it has been thought necessary to impose a double penalty under two different Acts for the same offence. It is a startling departure from the recognised canons of the criminal law in every other field. because for the same simple offence of shooting a partridge a person can be punished both under the Game Act, 1831, and the Game Licences Act, 1860. That 892 indicates the degree of severity with which what I regard as something quite harmless has been punished during the last one hundred years. That consideration reinforces me in my opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
If it is a good thing that Clause 5 should remove a double penalty for one offence, why does it not apply to Scotland?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not want to detain the House any longer. Apart from the objections to the Bill in principle which I have outlined, I hope that I have said sufficient to show that there is so much mystery and archaism about the whole of these antiquated game laws that I would welcome some Measure which reformed them completely and brought them up to date. However, I am sure that that cannot be done within the scope of this limited Private Member's Bill. For that reason I shall oppose it
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I want to start by joining in the general congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who have put forward this very useful Bill. For some years I have been very concerned at the number of injuries caused to people—some old, some young—by what I might describe as indiscriminate shooting by children. We all know that children now mature much earlier. They mature much earlier in many ways, but not always in judgment and apparently not in the specialised judgment of when it is safe or not safe to discharge a firearm—an air rifle or an air pistol.
As we have already heard, every passing year brings a higher total of people injured, and in some cases killed, by the ill-judged discharge of firearms, often, but not always, by children or immature persons. It is a very serious problem and it is high time that steps were taken to deal with it.
I think that responsibility falls very heavily on the parents or guardians of these young people. I wish that some steps could be taken to bring the responsibility home to parents or guardians. I shall not attempt to quote individual cases, but from what I have read in the Press it seems that in some 893 cases the parent or guardian was quite content for a child to be out of the house with a weapon, not knowing what the child was doing with the weapon or who or what he was injuring with it. The parent or guardian was content for the child to be out, leaving him in peace.
This is a wholly deplorable attitude. None the less, it is an attitude which exists in a few cases, and the parent or guardian is deeply shocked when he learns from the police that someone has been injured or maimed or, as happens in a few cases, killed by the child with this weapon. We have also to consider that the child often injures himself. Quite a number of boys have been badly hurt by the inexpert handling of guns, in which category I include air rifles, and the particularly noxious weapon, the air pistol.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the use of air rifles. I myself learned to shoot with one, and I think that one is always prejudiced in favour of any system if one has benefited from it. The air pistol, however, is not a particularly helpful toy. Very few of us need to use pistols in our adult life. The air pistol is an advanced type of the sort of cap pistol which we have all seen young children snapping at each other in cowboy games. I believe that many accidents with air pistols are not really accidents in the literal sense of the word, but are caused by a boy snapping it at something or someone, and the bullet striking a person in the face, perhaps with very bad effects. I see very little use for air pistols. I believe they play no useful part in our lives at all. They are not useful for teaching shooting in the sense in which shooting needs to be taught.
I wonder whether there is a possibility that these air pistols, and possibly also the more dangerous types of rifle, can be classified as firearms under the Firearms Act, 1937. If such a step were taken. I think that people up to the age of 14 years would be prohibited from possesing them. Although I am very much against what I call over-control, when the need is proved, as it is in this case, I think that there must be control. To designate air pistols and the more dangerous type of air rifles in this way would be useful. I think that the whole House accepts that something has to be done about this menace.
894 We have heard of a development—one which I confess is new to me and one which should not be allowed to go any further. I refer to the practice of children deliberately shooting at each other. The idea strikes me with horror, and I am glad to say that it has not yet started in the West Country, to my knowledge, although one can see that young and irresponsible people in an excited state might well come to do it. I can see that a boy will start by shooting close to somebody else to frighten him, and then, perhaps, that is followed by actually shooting at him. If a person is struck in the body with an airgun pellet no harm may be done, but if he is struck in the face there can be frightful consequences. Steps must be taken to stop this practice.
Whether or not Clause 1 goes far enough is a matter of opinion. One has to weigh the considerations and study the effects in different parts of the country. Today, we have heard widely differing points of view from people living in towns, where there are almost no legitimate live targets, and from people living in the country, where boys are accustomed to learn to shoot starting, perhaps at small vermin. I remember that I started with rats, and was paid by results. That, I think, can do no harm in circumstances where there is no danger of a bullet ricocheting.
That is the first point which should be impressed on any young person firing at vermin or any other live target. It is rather an exciting experience, especially for the beginner. One has a feeling that one is hunting in a rather exciting way, and it is so tempting to forget what is going on behind the target and to overlook the risk of completely missing the target and the bullet ricocheting. That is why I say that considerable judgment is required.
Reference has been made to the possibility of introducing tests, but I do not think these would be at all appropriate. A boy or girl can be tested on a rifle range for good and consistent shooting. One can test for accuracy in this way, but one cannot test for judgment. One cannot in any way that I can imagine find a test which would show whether a boy or girl was safe to be allowed out in the countryside with such a weapon, looking for targets, or whether such a person would forget to look 895 closely to see what was behind the target, or would judge the correct angle at which to aim at the target, which is most important. To shoot at a bird on a tree is one of the most dangerous things that can be done with a firearm, because the bullet can carry a great distance and is liable to strike someone. This is a matter for judgment, and it can only be taught by an experienced person.
There is a great difference between the town and the country, because in the country one can make a mistake or two and have a reasonable hope that no one will be hurt. If the facts become known one gets well ticked off, but nobody is hurt, whereas in a town one cannot often fire bullets around the place without striking something or somebody, resulting in damage either to a person, or to windows, and so forth. Parents and guardians who allow boys to go out in towns with air rifles or air pistols without having made absolutely sure that they are going to a safe place to practise against a proper target, are acting very irresponsibly.
Sooner or later, those boys will start competing among themselves. One has read of such cases, where boys have shot at those little china insulators on telegraph poles, at street lights, windows and all sorts of other easily breakable objects which are expensive to replace. Then we have the case of wanton cruelty, when people shoot at cats or dogs or pigeons. There is undoubtedly a lot of this sort of thing.
When a parent lets a boy in a town go out with an air rifle, what does he think the boy will do with it? This is an important matter, and, since it appears that parents and guardians do not always live up to what I regard as their responsibilities, it seems to me that it is necessary to have a Bill of this kind. The only question is whether the limits are arranged to the best advantage under the Bill as now drafted. No doubt, this matter can be considered more fully in Committee, and I will, therefore, waste no more time in discussing it now. I would only say that I should have thought 15 was about the right age for the lower limit, but I am not sure whether a person of 17 years of age is old enough to accompany a learner. I feel it may be a little too young. How- 896 ever, this is a matter which can be considered in Committee.
As for the rest of the Bill, there are parts of it which have proved slightly contentious, and two hon. Members opposite have expressed a certain amount of antipathy to these Clauses. First, I should like to say a few words about the points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) in which I was very interested. The Game Act, 1831, which he does not favour, does not apply to Scotland. It may be that being accustomed to different conditions in Scotland the hon. Member finds the Act rather distasteful.
§ Sir R. Glyn
If the hon. Member has experience of both, I take it that he prefers the Scottish law to the 1831 Act.
I have already made it clear in an intervention that it is right to regard the Games Licences Act, 1860, as a revenue-raising Act. That is why the game certificate was changed into a licence. It was with recognition of the changed circumstances that the changed nomenclature came about. I am not sure when the expression "licence" was first used, but it was certainly used in the 1860 Act when that Measure was regarded as revenue-raising legislation, which, I think, is the correct view of it.
The hon. Member did not see why people who raise broiler pheasants should be in difficulties about killing them. I would draw his attention, or remind him, because I think that he must know, to the fact that these regulations define periods in which game can be killed and are not meant to be a discrimination in the sense of who can kill game. That is something entirely different. The close season is brought in solely in the interests of game—to allow them to breed.
If the hon. Member asks about hares he will find that they are covered by the Hares Preservation Act, 1892. That is exactly what it is for and that is why it is so called. These regulations are not in any way designed to discriminate against one section of the community or another. They are meant solely to protect the animals and birds of game which otherwise might become extinct 897 and particularly, of course, if the regulations against poaching were wholly removed.
I think that I have now dealt with the main points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) went further. He declared a more or less vested interest in poaching. It is an experience which I have never had. I can quite see that there are certain attractions about it, but I would ask the hon. Member to consider one or two points. The hon. Member was contrasting some of the Clauses which increase penalties with a Clause which provides a statutory defence to a charge of having game in one's possession more than 40 days after the close of the season. He said that this was giving advantage to a privileged class. He said that whereas some Clauses increased the penalties on what I might call the poaching class, this Clause gave a concession to what I might call the deep-freeze owning classes, and he indicated that this was a Measure which favoured a very small class of the community as opposed to others.
I would ask the hon. Member to think for a moment and to realise that the enormous majority of game that is deep frozen is not in privately-owned deep-freezers, but in butchers' deep-freezers. The Clause is certainly not designed to favour a relatively small class of landowners who have deep-freezers, but to help people who buy game from butchers. The effect will be that butchers may keep game in their refrigerators for more than 40 days—and, indeed, game can be kept for nine to ten months in deep-freeze—and they can then sell it not to a limited class but to the whole community, in fact to anyone who wishes to buy it.
If the hon. Member considers this carefully he might wish to withdraw his contention that this provision was intended to favour a small class. He is usually so fair in these matters that I do not think that he would wish to go on record as making a serious charge against the sponsors of the Bill. because I am sure that this is not their intention nor is the effect that the Clause would have.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I was endeavouring to draw a contrast between the proposals in the Clause to which the hon. 898 Member refers, and which I do not oppose at all, and the additional penalties to be imposed on a man who goes out and shoots a partridge, which he is perfectly entitled to do without its being a matter that would be the subject of the criminal law any more than is trespassing.
§ Sir R. Glyn
That may be, but the hon. Member did draw a strong contrast between the increased penalties in what I might call the poaching Clauses and the new statutory defence made available to what he described as a small community who owned deep-freeze refrigerators. I put it to him that it is not a fair antithesis or analogy to make, because the game kept in most deepfreezes is open for sale to everybody. I am sure that the hon. Member did this to stress his objection to the poaching Clauses, but I put it to him that it was not a very fair analogy.
I should like to say a few words myself about poaching. Whether a person is pro-poaching or anti-poaching does not always depend on whether one is liable to poach or liable to be poached upon. I have a personal objection to poaching on rather different lines. I have had experience of this in the courts. The hon. Member did not disclose his methods, but he referred to day poaching and twice spoke of partridges. Whether we should draw any conclusions from those remarks or whether they were purely fortuitous I do not know, but when one lives near a town, one finds cases of people coming out in a motor car by day and bringing with them a small-bore rifle, preferably fitted with a silencer.
Equipment of this kind enables them to shoot considerable quantities of game and get away with it without being caught, and they nearly always get away. The difficulty is that they are apt to leave behind them wounded game, because if one is to get away one cannot take up time to pick up anything one might have hit and not killed. The hon. Member for Islington, East may be a deadly shot. He may be a member of the Palace of Westminster Rifle Club. He may never have been known to fail to kill clean. I am not in a position to comment on that.
If the hon. Gentleman is, he is not typical of the average day poacher. The average day poacher takes away in his 899 car an appreciable amount of dead game and leaves distributed over the countryside a considerable amount of wounded game which lives in agony for an appreciable length of time and dies miserably, or if it survives, it is very unlikely to be able to breed.
This cruelty aspect is the biggest real objection to either poaching or the general indiscriminate extension of the right to shoot all over the country. Where people shoot because they have a legal right to do so, they have an interest, we hope, not only in avoiding cruelty, as all proper people have, but also in preserving game and trying to keep a stock of it on the property. Where people are shooting either with a day permit, purchased from a central authority as suggested by the hon. Member for Enfield, East, or without any permit, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, East, they have no interest whatever in leaving any stock of game.
If they shoot out of season, and get away with it, which they probably will, they have no interest in seeing that birds are not wounded. It could not matter less to them how many sterile birds there are, for they will never come back again but will be shooting somewhere else next week or next year. Consequently, they have no interest in the long-term benefit which can be obtained from nursing up a stock of game on a property. The only people who have that as the law is at present are those who have a right to shoot there.
I do not want to go too far into this, but I want to stress the cruelty aspect. My comments are not directed in any way at the hon. Member for Islington, East. I do not know whether he shoots, whether he wounds, or what he does. But many people shoot and wound, and the consequences are quite frightening. I do not want to harrow the House with ghastly anecdotes; but not long ago a stag was found on a public road in a condition which was described as exsanguinated. It was on three legs. The fourth leg, a hind leg, was broken and sticking out at an angle of 45º from the normal. The animal was incapable of movement and was, mercifully, shot by the farmer who found it. The condition of the hind leg was so extraordinary, the whole of the muscle being pulped and an enormous festering wound having formed, that investigations were made.
900 It was found that the deer had been shot in the face by a shotgun a little while previously and that the pain of the wound, caused by the discharge of small shot from a weapon which could not conceivably have killed the animal no matter where it had hit it, had caused it to strain and break a hind leg which had been weakened months or years before by a small bore rifle bullet. The bullet had clipped an appreciable part off the bone of the hind leg at a date which experts could not determine, but was at least months earlier.
Further investigation—because the symptoms were unusual—disclosed another rifle bullet lodged in a fore leg and two other sizes of 12-bore pellets in different parts of the stag's anatomy. This wretched animal, which had run itself into a condition where it was incapable of movement, had been shot five times over a period of months or years, but had not died until it was mercifully put out of its agony by the farmer who found it incapable of movement on a public road.
For that one animal there are hundreds of others which nobody sees or knows about who die of starvation, exhaustion and exposure. I repeat that I am not in any way suggesting that the hon. Member for Islington, East has ever been involved in anything like that——
§ Sir R. Glyn
—but that is the direct result of poachers with inefficient weapons and perhaps of young poachers—this is highly likely—who happen to have found themselves within 40 yards of a deer with a weapon and cartridges which any adult would know could never kill but which they could not resist discharging at the unfortunate animal.
We have to face the question of cruelty. It is only young and wholly ignorant boys who would dream of firing at an animal of some size—the one about which I have spoken was a red deer—with a shotgun with No. 6 shot. It is something which no experienced person would do unless he was within a few yards of the animal and could shoot precisely in the right place; but that had not been done in the case that I mentioned.
901 Anyone who opposes the Bill has to consider what he is doing and the degree of cruelty to which animals and birds are exposed at the hands of immature young marksmen who just hope that they are going to make a kill and fire off their weapon, whatever it may be, in circumstances in which an experienced person would know that it could never do anything but inflict a cruel wound.
I feel most strongly that this is a Bill which we need. I realise that it may be desired to make a few minor Amendments in Committee, a little change here or there, but I see nothing against that. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I should like very briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) and to congratulate him upon having introduced this Bill. I shall confine my remarks almost entirely to Clause 1.
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) suggested that Clause 1 had been introduced as a cover for some other part of the Bill. As one of the supporters of the Bill, I resent that suggestion. There are a number of us who have been very much concerned for years about the problem of juvenile guns and their dangers, and everyone knows the difficulty that there is in getting these matters dealt with by legislation.
The Home Office has, unfortunately—at any rate, until now—not been willing to take any action itself, and, although the matter was raised two years ago by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and myself—the hon. Member was good enough to refer to this—when we tried to draw public attention to the matter in a very clear way—I think that we succeeded in doing so—we were unable to get any action taken by the Home Office. Also, of course, Private Members' Bills are very difficult to come by.
If it is, in those circumstances, thought desirable to try to unite two separate subjects, or two separate branches of the same subject, in one Bill, that is not a reason for suggesting motives on the part of those concerned and it is not a reason for opposing the Second Reading of a Bill which can perfectly well be amended in Committee by the 902 deletion of Clauses if members of the Committee think that it should be. One is almost driven to think that those who impute motives are themselves acting perhaps from rather an excess of zeal.
I ask the House to realise how important Clause 1 is. We are definitely concerned there with danger to human life and limb from accidents which take place every week. Reference has been made to the possibility of my being out of order because I have been carrying, it has been said, a "lethal weapon". Mr. Speaker was kind enough to say that he did not observe any lethal tendency in what I have with me. It is what I may describe as a lengthy parchment, which is 30 ft. long, and contains newspaper cuttings describing accidents in which juveniles were concerned, and in which there was injury to life or limb, over a period of two years.
I shall not weary the House with it, but I believe that nothing like enough attention has been paid to the seriousness of this matter. I give two examples, taken at random, out of the middle of this collection. I shall not give the actual names, because one knows what pain these things cause, and very often the accidents were due to ignorance, and, indeed, to innocence on the part of the juveniles concerned.
One of the reports says that the boy came in for his tea and left his 12-bore gun on the baby's pram. He told the coroner that he could not remember unloading the gun. After tea, the children were about. His six-year-old brother was standing at the door. The older boy said:I picked un my gun. I had my back to him and someone mentioned my name. I turned round, the gun went off and it went straight at him.The second report reads:A girl aged two died on the way to hospital last night after being shot while playing with friends.'The girl had been playing with a boy aged 11 outside the door of her home. The boy picked up a 12-bore shotgun from the corner of the scullery. Seconds later, there was an explosion and she fell to the ground.Within the last fortnight, there was the case of a 13-year-old boy who took his brother's 12-bore gun, pressed it against his friend's chest and pulled the trigger. The friend was killed. That sort of thing has been going on for a 903 long time, and we must do something about it.
Those of us who live in suburban counties like Surrey know that sometimes gangs of youths go out with guns and shoot at anything. Although I am confining myself to the Clause 1 aspects, we should also appreciate that if we want to preserve the game in this country —and I do not think that it would fair to suggest that the hon. Member for Islington, East does not wish to do so—we must stop this indiscriminate destruction.
I saw a case last year where a gang of youths found a pheasant sitting on eggs in its nest. They blew it to pieces, from about 10 ft. off. There was nothing left but blood, feathers and broken eggs. It is no good denying that that sort of thing is going on, because it is. This Bill will help deal with it.
There are, however, points to consider in Committee. There is the serious question of the way Clause 1 deals with one of the evils. There will be a big loophole if the Bill allows a boy of 17 to go with a boy of 12, who can then carry a gun, provided the older one has a licence. Whether anything can be done by tests or conditions, one does not know, but we should realise that a rifle, which is no more dangerous than a 12-bore gun at short range, needs a firearms certificate, whereas, as I have proved by my own experience, one can get a licence for, and in the name of, a child even without any signature from the child itself. These guns are given as presents to quite small boys, who then proceed to join up with these gangs and become a menace to everyone.
I hope that we all realise the danger of the continuance of the present state of affairs, and that there will be no question of throwing out the Bill and wrecking it because it may contain certain things which one does not like. Any hon. Member who is contemplating voting against Second Reading ought to assume that he will succeed. It may be quite easy to say, "I know that the Bill is bound to pass, and, therefore, there is no harm in indulging my feelings by voting against it", but it is a questionable thing to do.
Private Members' Bills are difficult enough to get through. I have had to 904 deal with them myself before now. The sponsor never knows how many people will be here to support him. I appeal to anyone who finds something in the Bill that he does not like to give it a Second Reading. I do not like Clause 9 and I do not think that there is the slightest prospect of its going any further, but that can be dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. Mackie
Clause 1 bears no relationship to the other eight Clauses, and it is unfair of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to accuse us of wanting to stop the Bill as a whole because of one Clause. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has himself concentrated his arguments on Clause 1.
§ Sir L. Heald
I am not saying that there is no relationship between Clause 1 and the other eight, but that if the hon. Gentleman votes against the Bill because of that Clause he will defeat the whole Bill and that would mean that a very serious evil will not be able to be dealt with in this way. If it is not to be dealt with under this Bill, the Joint Under-Secretary of State may be prepared to say that the Home Office will take the necessary action, but I am not prepared to take a chance on that. I hope that we shall get this Bill through today.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) not only on his success in the Ballot, but also upon his very clear and well-balanced speech. This debate has been interesting for the fact that the greatest controversy has been about matters that are not in the Bill rather than about those that it contains. I was fascinated by the unorthodox suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). I find it hard to follow some of them, because it is difficult to envisage lord-lieutenants getting hold of T.A. rifle ranges and converting them into something that would be rather like funfairs.
We have also had interesting contributions from various points of view, including a notable one from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) based on his experience and practical wisdom. As has been said, the 905 Bill deals with two matters which could well be separated, but, on the other hand, they are to some extent related, and I do not think that any propriety is infringed by including Clause I in the same Bill as these other Clauses. At the same time, it is obviously right to consider Clause 1 on its own and to consider the rest collectively.
The Government would welcome something on the lines of Clause 1, though it could be improved by amendment, in ways which I will suggest broadly. As has been said, in recent years there has been a great increase in the number of accidents arising from the use of both airguns and shotguns.
Of course, neither airguns nor shotguns are subject to the rigid controls applicable to more lethal weapons under the Firearms Act, 1937. The information which the Home Office has received from police forces throughout the country points to the conclusion that the increase in accidents which I have mentioned is mainly attributable to the careless or malicious use of airguns, including in that expression air pistols and air rifles, by young people under the age of 17.
Injuries from airguns reported to the police numbered 390 in the three years ended 28th February, 1934, and no fewer than 2,712 in the three years ended 31st December, 1958. That is a sevenfold increase. The biggest increase within that figure, from 141 to 1,234, was an increase in accidents caused when young people aged from 14 to 17 were the users of the weapon. There was a considerable increase, from 162 to 918, among the under 14-year-old users of these weapons.
Apart from those personal injuries, there have also been many complaints of damage to property and, as has been stressed in the debate, injury to animals and birds. The Government do not dissent from the view that there is a case for restricting possession and use of airguns by children and young people, but are unable to advise the House to accept Clause 1 as it stands.
In the first place, the Clause relates to guns of all types and to some extent is in conflict with the Firearms Act, 1937, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) pointed out, already severely restricts the possession by children and young 906 persons of the more lethal types of firearms. Secondly, in our view, there is a case for distinguishing between the restrictions which we impose on the use and carrying of airguns and those which might be imposed for shotguns.
While it may seem illogical to suggest greater restrictions on the use of airguns than on the more powerful weapons, shotguns, it is relevant to bear in mind that shortguns are in widespread use for legitimate purposes, whereas airguns are hardly more than toys which can be dangerous. Moreover, there has been nothing like the dramatic increase in casualties caused by shotguns compared with those caused by airguns. The shotgun figures compared with the airgun figures which I have just given show that in the three years 1931–34 there were 439 shotgun accidents and in the three years 1956–58, 610, or an increase of roughly 50 per cent. compared with a 700 per cent. increase in airgun accidents. That is a matter of which we should take account when considering legislation of this kind.
It is clear from the figures I have given that something needs to be done to control more effectively than at present the hooligans who cause a great deal of mischief and some suffering from the use of airguns. In deciding what form of control this should take, it is necessary also to have regard to the practical problems of enforcement. It is sometimes suggested that the firearms certificate procedure should be applied to shotguns and airguns, as it is at present applied to more lethal weapons. That would require the police to make careful inquiries into the circumstances of every application and to issue a certificate only when a clear need for a firearm and ability to handle it with care had been shown. That would involve placing on the police a heavier burden than the circumstances justify.
What is needed is a straightforward provision which is fairly easy to enforce. Having examined various possibilities, in consultation with chief officers of police, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary thinks that there is a case for prohibition of the possession and use of airguns by children under 14 and a prohibition on the carriage of airguns in public places by young persons between 14 and 17. To a reasonable extent that 907 would meet the point about the under-seventeens which was made by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner).
The extent to which those prohibitions should be absolute, however, may require rather careful consideration. If the Bill obtains a Second Reading, the Government will consider introducing an Amendment covering those points, but, before deciding on the precise terms of an Amendment, we would need to consider the debate carefully, and the details of any Amendment would no doubt be the subject of close scrutiny in Standing Committee. Meanwhile, I want to make a few more comments on Clause 1 in the hope of enabling hon. Members interested in the Bill to reach conclusions between now and the Committee stage, bearing in mind that such conclusions must depend on what is decided in Committee.
Airguns serve little, if any, useful purpose, as I have said. It is not considered that any genuine hardship can arise by applying restrictive provisions to them. Shotguns, however, have a legitimate use for the killing of game and of vermin and prohibitions as strict as those which might be applied to airguns would accordingly be less justifiable for shotguns.
At the same time, the Government accept that there is some case for requiring the use of shotguns by young people to be supervised and they have it in mind that provisions might be made for the supervision of the use of shotguns by young people under 15, as the Bill aims to do. Whether the form of supervision which is suggested in Clause 1 is entirely appropriate also has to be considered. For example, it might be thought desirable to allow the use of a shotgun by somebody who was under 15 and who was accompanied by a relative other than a parent or guardian, even though that relative did not hold a gun or game licence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury drew attention to those cases which might often arise when no parent or guardian was available, even when one of them was alive, to exercise the supervision. That is a case which would have to be considered and covered when amending Clause 1.
908 We also have to consider that, under the law as it stands, a gun or game licence is purely a revenue licence. I assure hon. Members that that is so and if they will turn up textbooks on the subject, they will see that it is always dealt with as a revenue matter and quite separate from the game laws. It is a licence which anybody can obtain over a post office counter on payment of the prescribed fee, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) was at pains to stress at Question Time one day last year, when he drew attention to the fact that he got such a licence for his small granddaughter aged 3. Therefore, the mere possession of a revenue licence is no guarantee that the person exercising supervision is qualified for the task, and, therefore, that provision of Clause 1 needs to be looked at rather carefully.
Another thing that we need to consider is whether the age of 17 is the right age for somebody to supervise, as is suggested by subsection (1, b). The Government will take account of these matters and of all other matters expressed in the debate before deciding what to do about it in Committee.
§ Sir L. Heald
May I ask my hon. and learned Friend a question? He refers to a shotgun as less lethal than others, and I understand that he was suggesting that a rifle is much more lethal than a shotgun. At ten yards, I should have thought that the reverse was true.
§ Mr. Renton
What I had intended to say and what I thought I did say was that airguns are less lethal than shotguns. What I was trying to point out was that airguns serve no useful purpose. They are, apparently—I find it hard to use the words in connection with them—merely for pleasure. They are toys, or glorified toys, although they can be very dangerous, because they go off very easily, and they can cause serious injury. It is obvious, however, that the injuries which they cause are not so serious as the injuries which could be caused by shotguns, but, at the same time, shotguns have a practical value for the purposes of killing game and vermin. I hope that clarifies the point.
Now, may I go on to the other Clauses of the Bill? In this connection, I am 909 naturally very tempted indeed to enter into the controversy about the game laws in general, but I will resist that temptation, except to say this in answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), which absolutely astonished me. I cannot believe that if he had reasonable knowledge of what goes on in the countryside, he would have made a speech like that. I would simply say that without game preservation, we would have very little game. Not only would we have very little game, but we might have very little wild life. One has only to visit those countries or parts of countries where there is no game preservation to realise that there is very little wild bird life there, and it is a very tragic thing. I stop at that, because I do not want to enter into this controversy.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The hon. and learned Gentleman must not misrepresent me. I am not against game preservation in any way.
§ Mr. Renton
I am very glad to hear it, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman's speech will be read in the light of that intervention, and it will read very differently.
As to Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 5, I do not think it is necessary for me to make any special comment about them. We have no objection to them, except that it would be difficult to enforce Clause 3 in practice, because gun and game licences are available at most post offices, and it would not be a practical thing for the courts to notify every post office in the country of the fact of disqualification.
As to Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9, like most hon. Members who have spoken, we do not like Clause 9, and my right hon. Friend is not prepared to co-operate in the enforcement of Clause 7, which empowers the Secretary of State to authorise persons to inspect registers. When the Bill comes to the Committee stage, I should have to advise the Committee accordingly.
As to Clauses 6 and 8, our attitude is neutral. We take note of the fact that there is a modern trend towards cold storage, which, by extending the period of sale, would allow the market to be operated more efficiently, and to cater for a more regular and better spread-over of customer demand. On the other hand, I think I should tell the House 910 that there is a risk that the establishment of an open market for carcases in the close season may lead to disregard or evasion of the prohibition of killing in the close season. This is a factor, though a comparatively minor one, which has to be balanced against the main arguments in favour. There is just the possibility, therefore, that if we do this by this provision in Clause 6, it might make it rather more difficult to enforce the laws which protect wild life, but we are willing to receive evidence one way or another about that.
There, as briefly as I can, I have stated the Government's attitude to the detailed provisions of the Bill. The Government will, of course, accept whatever decision the House takes about the Bill on Second Reading, and, if it gets a Second Reading, I shall be glad to offer such advice and help as we can to improve the Bill.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I apologise to the promoters of the Bill because I was not here to listen to the earlier speeches made in its support, but I have listened with great care to the statement made by the hon. and learned Joint Under-Secretary of State. It seems to me that, in the light of that speech, it surely ought to be possible to deal with the matters raised in Clause 1 during this Session, provided that the Government, having said what they have through the hon. and learned Gentleman, are willing to co-operate in getting a Bill on the lines of Clause 1 on to the Statute Book.
I regard the matters raised by Clause 1 as being of very serious concern, and I would go all the way with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) in the views which he has pressed on the hon. and learned Gentleman. Quite innocent children carry throughout their lives feelings of regret for things that they have done with the aid of one of these weapons without meaning to harm or to show malice towards the unfortunate victim. I think that that matter, as well as what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and others to whom I have had the pleasure of listening this morning, is something that we ought to bear in mind.
We ought not to put these dangerous weapons into the hands of young 911 children who cannot be expected to have the judgment on which their proper use so largely depends, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn). I hope that some arrangement can be arrived at between the Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House by which a reasonable Bill, on the lines of Clause 1, could be enacted during the Session, no matter what happens to the rest of the Bill. I am sure that a wide measure of agreement among hon. Members could be obtained on Clause 1. I can think of no one in the House who would be likely to object to a reasonable Bill on the lines of that Clause.
The rest of the Bill deals with game, and I am oppressed by the long class history of the game laws. I am a devotee of William Cobbett, and what he said about Lord Sidmouth and the Bills he passed during the awful period when Sidmouth was Home Secretary has always had my hearty support. As my maternal grandfather was in close contact with William Cobbett I have every reason to wish to maintain that point of view. That is not because I want to see the game injured by inefficient shots, or to see the commercialised poacher—the man who presents the great difficulty these days—given a free run. I want to see both matters properly dealt with.
As a magistrate, I have had to deal with people who drive brilliantly lighted motor cars along dark country lanes and roads to dazzle game, which they then shoot. The hon. Member for Dorset, North was fully justified in the remarks he made about the subsequent proceedings. It is not merely a question of the game which is killed in this way; we must remember the game that these people injure and leave injured without any thought to the cruelty that they inflict.
I have always found it very difficult to agree to the imposition of any very heavy penalty on the man who goes out by himself to try to get something for the pot. He runs great risks. Under Sidmouth, he was liable to transportation, and a good many people of high distinction in Dominion affairs today are the descendants of those who were transported for this crime.
§ Mr. B. Harrison
In view of the reluctance of many British migrants to go to 912 Australia, I am all in favour of reintroducing transportation.
§ Mr. Ede
When one thinks of the old man in that great book "Robbery Under Arms" one realises the way in which many of these people got there partly from hunger and partly from a sense of adventure which brought them into conflict with the law when it was much more severe than anything we would contemplate today.
What the Joint Under-Secretary said about the remainder of the Bill makes me hope that it may be possible, for legislative purposes, to separate Clause 1 from the rest. I am sure that it will be found very difficult to obtain agreement on the remainder to the same degree as we are likely to get on Clause 1. The hon. and learned Member has told the House that the Government are neutral in their attitude to Clauses 6 and 8. Is their neutrality benevolent or malevolent? The fate of those two Clauses might well depend upon the spirit in which this neutrality is observed, if we ever get as far as the Committee stage. I urge upon the hon. and learned Member and his right hon. Friend the desirability of enacting Clause 1 as soon as possible in a practicable form. We ought to take advantage of the spirit that is alive at the moment in this connection to remove this problem from the other problems dealt with in the Bill.
§ Mr. Kimball
The right hon. Gentleman is not being quite fair on this point—probably because he was not in the Chamber earlier. Clause 8 was included at the request of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), so that some agreement does extend beyond Clause 1, certainly to Clause 8.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not doubt that what the hon. Member has said is right, but before I would bring it into the same category I should want a rather wider degree of agreement than is provided by the fact that one hon. Member on this side has expressed his sympathy for Clause 8, which I do not regard as anything like as important as Clause 1.
The Government will have to help us in this matter. I am astonished at the way in which what Lord Morrison of Lambeth describes as "the Friday afternoon sausage machine" has worked during this Session. If one looks at the 913 list of Private Members' Bills which have received a Second Reading" on the nod" after four o'clock on those Fridays so far devoted to Private Members' Bills, one sees that it is quite formidable. I understand that it was only the absence of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) which enabled one Bill, in which my hon. Friends were closely interested, to get a Committee stage. This was a Bill with about six Clauses and two or three Schedules, and the hon. Member for Exeter assured me that his absence from the debates in Committee prevented that amount of legislative work being saved.
It must be remembered that after a Bill has received a Second Reading it goes upstairs to Committee. I will bow to the greater wisdom of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) if he wishes to contradict me, but I understand that not more than one Bill receives attention at one sitting of the Committee. Therefore, as the Committee meets only once a week it
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. B. Harrison.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.914
§ is clear that if the list of Bills which have already gone to that Standing Committee has to be gone through, this one has very little chance of a Committee stage this year—unless we receive the sympathy and co-operation of Her Majesty's Government in order to secure the enactment of the non-controversial Clause 1.
§ I hope that the hon. and learned Member will bring the state of the Private Member's Bill Committee procedure to the notice of his right hon. Friend and, after taking such instructions as he gets, will appeal to the general good will of the House to enable the Government at any rate to get Clause 1 on to the Statute Book during this Session. If a few poachers of the non-commercial kind have a bit of a free run for an extra twelve months, I do not think that anybody will be seriously injured by that.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 37, Noes 12.913
|Division No. 91.1]||AYES||[2.20 p.m.|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Bell, Ronald||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Renton, David|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Brooman-White, R.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)|
|Costain, A. P.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Russell, Ronald|
|Cunningham, Knox||dames, David||Teeling, William|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Janner, Sir Barnett||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carahalton)||Langford-Holt, J.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Gammans, Lady||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Wade, Donald|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wit. Cdr. R||Morrison, John|
|Grimston, Sir Robert||Peel, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Pott, Percivall||Mr. Kimball and Mr. Corfield.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Deer, George||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Holman, Percy||Tomney, Frank|
|Fletcher, Eric||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Mr. Mackie and Mr. Snow.|