HL Deb 12 July 1906 vol 160 cc996-1002

House in Committee (according to order.)

[The Earl of ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:—


moved to amend Clause 2, which provided that the occupier of moorland and unenclosed land should be entitled to kill ground game at any period of the year otherwise than by shooting, by securing that there should be a close time between April 1st and September 1st. He said that he submitted the Amendment in the interest of preserving bird life at the stage when birds were breeding and were unable to protect themselves. Although he did not think that farmers as a general rule would go out of their way to do damage, there was very little doubt that disturbing birds while they were nesting by walking about the moors might do an infinite amount of harm. He had been in correspondence with a number of northern proprietors, and they were all agreed that the Bill required amendment in the way he proposed. Most of them would like to see the month of October included in the close time, but he suggested from April 1st to September 1st in the hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill would be able to see his way to accept the Amendment. In the Ground Game Act of 1880 there was a very long close time—he believed nearly six months. This provision was inserted not only for the protection of birds and game, but also to prevent difficulties arising between landlord and tenant. Shooting rents in the north were as five to one compared with grazing rents, so that if a landlord who had a small property and only got 1s. per acre for grazing purposes could get 5s. per acre in shooting rents, the temptation would naturally be for him to clear the ground of sheep and realise his shooting rents. He honestly thought it would be a great mistake to make it possible for ground game to be snared and trapped all the year round. He did not think farmers on the hillside would have any title to complain of the close time suggested in his Amendment, because they would be able to kill rabbits right up to the breeding time. They would be able to kill ground game from September to April, and surely that was sufficient time for their destruction. There were very few persons who wished rabbits and hares to be retained. They were both vermin, and should go. But he did think that for the protection of bird life it was desirable that there should be a close time during the few months in which they were breeding and were unable to protect themselves. For these reasons he moved his Amendment.

Amendment moved— In line 3, to leave out the word ' April ' and insert the word 'September.'"—(Lord Saltoun.)


confessed that he wished it were possible to move the hard heart of his noble friend opposite, so that he might retain the Bill as it stood. He ventured to think there were many reasons why the Bill should be allowed to pass in its present form, and he was much encouraged in that belief by what fell from the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition at the previous stage when he said, and said with truth, that the farmer should not be left all these months without the advantage of being able to destroy the game which preyed on his crops. He (Lord Burgh-clere) admitted that the close time suggested by the noble Lord was the time during which rabbits and hares bred, but, agreeing as he did with what his noble friend had said as to rabbits and hares being vermin, he thought that rather an argument for permitting them to be trapped and snared during the breeding time. If it were possible to make an appeal to the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition or his followers to allow the Bill to pass in its present form, he would be inclined to make it. He did not believe that the Bill, if allowed to come into operation immediately as it was drawn, would do the slightest harm to the grouse moors in Scotland. He recognised to the full the importance of the grouse interest in Scotland not only from the point of view of the landlords, but also from the point of view of the people who lived in the neighbourhood. They were told that under this Bill the tenants would go on the land and disturb the grouse. The tenants had a perfect right to go on the grouse moors at the present moment. They had a right of entry, and he did not see what harm would be done by allowing them to snare and trap—not to shoot—the ground game which destroyed their crops. He had never heard of grouse being caught in a snare.


said it was quite easy when they knew how to do it.


said he was certainly not so clever at snaring as his noble friend. In view of the fact that his noble friend had behind him big battalions and would not listen to any appeal to withdraw the Amendment, he was afraid nothing remained for him but to accept it.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down made a kind of appeal to me to allow the Bill to pass in its present shape. Now I am the last person in the world to desire that this Bill should be altered in such a way as to prevent the extirpation of animals that I for one regard as mischievous intruders, and I certainly should not suggest to any noble Lords who sit on this side of the House that they should support the Amendment of the noble Lord behind me if that Amendment does not accord with their own convictions.

I think, however, we have a right to ask one or two questions. In the first place we should like to have a clear and unequivocal statement of the manner in which this point is regarded by His Majesty's Government. In the debate the other evening the noble Lord who on that occasion spoke in behalf of the Government, but who is not in his place to-night (Lord Hamilton of Dalzell), went out of his way to intimate to us that in the opinion of His Majesty's Government the Bill did stand in need of some alteration in the direction suggested by the Amendment. I was careful to look afterwards at the exact words he used, and they most clearly and distinctly intimated that in the opinion of noble Lords opposite it was desirable to alter the Bill at this point. So much, then, as to the view of His Majesty's Government, which I hope they will confirm and explain before this discussion closes.

There is another point which weighs very much with me. This is a Bill intended to meet the wishes of the occupiers of unenclosed lands principally, though not entirely, in Scotland. We do happen to know something of the views of this class of the community. I hold in my hand a Report of the proceedings of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, and I find that in 1905 a Resolution was moved by a gentleman, speaking apparently on behalf of the tenants, as follows: That in order to mitigate the loss to sheep farmers by game, the Ground Game Act, 1880,should be amended so as to admit of rabbits being snared and trapped on moorland and unenclosed land from October 1st to April 1st. That view was not expressed for the first time in 1905, because a precisely similar Resolution was carried in 1903 at a meeting of this Chamber of Agriculture. I take it, therefore, that in the view of the tenants they would be sufficiently protected by the privilege of killing rabbits between October 1st and April 1st. My noble friend behind me wishes to do rather more for them than that, because he throws in September. He is, therefore, really offering more than the tenants have asked for. That is how I understand the case to rest, and if it be still the view of His Majesty's Government, who presumably have made it their business to inquire fully into the circumstances of the case, that this clause stands in need of Amendment, and if I am right in believing that the Scottish tenants themselves do not desire that the privilege should be given to them during the whole twelve months of the year, then I must say the proposal of my noble friend seems to me to be a reasonable one, and I am inclined to support him.


My Lords, I feel that I ought to apologise to the House for intervening in this discussion, for the reason that I have never had an opportunity of even shooting at a grouse in my life. I feel, therefore, somewhat ignorant of the merits of the case; but, on behalf of the Scottish Office and of His Majesty's Government, I am able to repeat the expression of their sympathy and general goodwill towards this Bill. On the other hand, in view of what has fallen from the noble Lord opposite and the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, I would venture to advise the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to accept the Amendment. If when this Amendment had been accepted it was found that any real grievance existed in the working of the Act the noble Earl himself could bring in a Bill to amend this one, and I am sure he would receive every support and sympathy from His Majesty's Government. But, in the circumstances, and having regard to what has fallen from noble Lords on the other side of the House, I think it would be well for my noble friend to accept the Amendment.


said it had become quite clear that his noble friend would have to accept the Amendment. But he would like to ask the House, and especially Lord Saltoun, to consider whether they were doing exactly the right thing in accepting the Amendment. The Act of 1880 was passed principally for the purpose of getting rid of anything approaching ill-feeling between landlord and tenant with respect to game, and the Act had certainly been successful in this respect. The landlord and the game tenant had the greatest protection in the goodwill of the occupation tenant. It was owing to that goodwill that no friction existed between the parties. The grievance of the tenant at the present moment was that for a great period of the year he was prevented from trapping the ground game which were doing damage to his crops. What was the shooting tenant going to got by preventing the occupation tenant from trapping ground game all the year round? He could go upon the land for the whole twelve months, and, if he had a grievance, if the goodwill which had hitherto existed were removed, he or his shepherd, by one movement of the foot, could inflict considerable damage on the shooting tenant by destroying the nest of the grouse. That was a state of things which might obtain if they lost the goodwill between landlord and tenant. It was said that the tenants might snare grouse. He had no doubt it was possible to lay snares for grouse, but not the rabbit snare; there was a well-known difference between the two. Again, what could be the object of snaring grouse in the months of May, June and July? What would the men who snared them do with them? For the sake of a mere fancied protection they were going to allow the tenant to have a grievance in that he would see his crops eaten and not be allowed to snare the rabbits. He did not suggest that their Lordships should divide on the Question, but he thought they would be taking the wiser course, in the interests of both landlord and shooting tenant, if they removed the grievance by allowing ground game to be trapped and snared all the year round.


supported the Amendment. He did not think there was likely to be any jealously or antipathy between landlord and tenant in this matter. Again, there was the question of rates. In some districts 40 per cent. of the rates came out of shooting values, and it would be a serious blow to the whole community if grouse rents were in any way injured, or prospective shooting tenants were deterred from taking grouse moors in the Highlands.


agreed as to the very great value of grouse moors to Scotland. It was in the interests, or the supposed interests, of these grouse moors that the Amendment had been put forward and it was obvious that after the expression of opinion of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and of His Majesty's Government nothing remained for him but to accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill recommitted to the Standing Committee; and to be printed as amended. (No. 157.)