HL Deb 07 March 1939 vol 112 cc2-28

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of the Bill to which I am about to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading, is to protect the farming interest against the depredations of deer and of ground game, and particularly, of course, of rabbits. Your Lordships are very familiar with the extent of the damage to the agricultural interest which is attributed and is attributable to the depredations of rabbits, and you are also familiar with the proposals which have been made in the case of England and Wales for dealing with the trouble, for a Bill has recently passed through your Lordships' House dealing with that matter. It will be for your convenience, therefore, I think, if I devote the greater part of my remarks to the first Part of the Bill, which deals with the depredations of deer.

The deer forests of Scotland may be said to be of interest in the economy of the country from two quite distinct points of view. In the first place they bring in to the local authorities very considerable revenue in the form of rates. For example, in the case of the five counties of Argyll, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Inverness the total rateable value amounts to £660,000 odd, and of that amount approximately £161,000 is attributable to shootings and fishing properties. That is to say, something like 24 per cent, of the total rateable value of those five counties is attributable to the shooting and fishing properties. Then again, of course, the sport of deer stalking provides a fair amount of employment, and in one way and another brings a good deal of money into the Highlands of Scotland.

It is sometimes argued, I know, that the deer forests of Scotland have to some extent displaced agricultural activities, and it is true that during the fifty years, let us say, before the War, the deer forests did very considerably increase in extent, with the result that by the year 1912 it was estimated that they covered in all some three and a half million acres. But it would, of course, be an entire mistake to estimate that this was the result of deliberate policy on the part of the landowners. It was nothing of the sort. It was due in the main to economic reasons—to the fall, for example, in the price of wool and in the price of mutton; and it was also due to some extent, I think, to a change in taste on the part of the consumers of mutton. There was a time when the old mutton of the mountains was greatly appreciated, and it may be that some of your Lordships recall two lines written by a Scottish playwright of the eighteenth or nineteenth century—I do not at the moment remember which—in a play entitled "Douglas," which ran as follows: Proud and erect the Caledonian stood: Old was his mutton and his claret good. Well, the taste for old mutton since those days has changed and everybody now demands a tenderer form of joint.

It would therefore be, I think, absurd to contemplate any large change in the character of the deer forests of Scotland from deer forest land to agricultural land. The economics of Scottish sheep farming would have to change very materially before that would be in any way possible. And it is not that, of course, for which the farming interests in Scotland are asking. What both the agriculturists and the landowners agree about is that in recent years the deer have strayed widely from the recognised deer forests and are becoming a perfect nuisance to the agriculturist, at any rate in some parts of the country, and especially on the fringe of the Central Highlands. This was largely a result of the difficulties in controlling deer during the War. Some protection during the War was given to the farmer and the crofter who, under an Order under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, were entitled to destroy, by any means which were available to them, deer that were found trespassing upon their crops and causing injury to them. This concession, however, was not very effective. The deer, as many of your Lordships know, is an elusive animal, and during the post-War period it is undoubtedly the fact that deer were permitted to stray on to lands far beyond the confines of the deer forests themselves.

I can recall from personal experience the great difficulty of keeping down deer, at any rate during the War years. It was represented to me on one occasion that it was very desirable that the deer should be killed, both from the point of view of providing food and from the point of view of preventing damage to agriculture by a large increase in their numbers. On one occasion, in consequence of this, I obtained six days' leave and proceeded to Scotland, and enjoyed I think as good a six days' deer stalking as I have ever had in my life. In the course of six consecutive days, as a result of fair stalking all the time—for it was impossible of course to find men to provide for driving or anything of that kind—I killed twenty-five stags. And since, in those times, communications were difficult with the remoter parts of the Highlands, I got back from my leave twenty-four hours late, and was severely reprimanded by the authorities for doing so.

Very well, that is the present position, and it is to deal with this state of affairs that this Bill has been drafted. Let me deal, very briefly, first of all then with the history of the Bill. My right honourable friend has naturally been most anxious, when embarking upon legislation of this kind, to secure as great a measure of agreement between all the interests concerned as is possible. Since the War various Committees have been constituted to consider the question. Consultations between the owners and the tenants have taken place, and the result has been, I think, to secure as nearly as is possible an agreed measure. We still hope that even if these powers are granted by Parliament and can be made use of, much will be done as the result of voluntary effort to improve the present position, and I should have great hope myself that the mere fact that provisions of this kind were on the Statute Book would stimulate owners, where they have been a little backward perhaps in taking such steps as were open to them to reduce the number of their deer, to do so.

Now let me refer briefly to the actual provisions contained in this Bill. Clause 1 gives the right to the occupier to kill and take deer on his enclosed land, which will, I think, be regarded by everybody as a reasonable proposal in present circumstances. The other clauses of Part I permit the killing of deer on unenclosed land, and I would like to explain to your Lordships the machinery which we propose to set up to secure this object. Let us suppose, for example, that complaints are made to the Department of Agriculture for Scotland of damage through depredations by deer to sheep farms on the fringe of the forest area, and that the Department are satisfied that some action is required. In that event a local deer regulation committee will be set up for a suitable area, consisting of representatives of the landowners, farmers and county council in the area, the purpose of the Committee being to investigate the complaints and to negotiate with the owners with a view to the reduction of the number of deer in that area. If an owner does what is necessary after negotiations have taken place all, of course, will be well. If not it will be open to the Department of Agriculture to take certain action.

They may give, for example, particular occupiers a right to shoot female deer on unenclosed lands on their farms; or they may authorise the local committee to undertake an expedition to kill deer; or they may direct an owner to erect and maintain a deer-proof fence. The Bill does, in fact, give the Department power to apply any one or more of these three remedies, but I should like to say at once that it is not contemplated that the provisions in connection with the erection of deer-proof fences will be resorted to except in very exceptional circumstances. There might, for example, very well be a case in which an owner had a deer forest which had been protected by a deer-proof fence which had been allowed to fall into disrepair, and I can well imagine circumstances in which it would be by no means unreasonable to ask the owner at least to put his fence into a state of repair.

Your Lordships will notice that in Clause 2 of the Bill provision is made for the appointment of a Central Advisory Committee which will consist of persons who are very familiar with all matters appertaining to deer and deer forests. The Committee have to be consulted by the Department before a local committee is constituted, and again on the recommendations of a local committee when such recommendations have been made. At this stage, the Advisory Committee may make such further inquiry as they think fit, and are required to offer to interested parties an opportunity of being heard. Only on the receipt of the Advisory Committee's report will the Department be in a position to take action with regard to the recommendations which have been made to us. The Advisory Committee are also charged with the function of advising the Department as to the number of persons who may be authorised by an occupier to kill deer on unenclosed lands and as to the withdrawal of any authorisation granted to the occupier or any modification of the rights conferred on him. In Clause 8 the Advisory Committee are given the function of advising the Department whether to authorise an occupier, in an area where no local regulation committee has been established, to kill female deer on his unenclosed land. There may be cases where the trouble affects only one or two farms, and where it would be wholly inappropriate to establish a local deer regulation committee. In such cases, as I have said, the Central Advisory Committee can recommend the Department to authorise the occupiers to kill deer on their unenclosed land.

Clause 6 relates to the apportionment of expenses in cases where a local committee enter lands to kill deer. It will be noted on reference to Clause read in conjunction with Clause 7, that where the committee have been of opinion that an owner has been diligent in endeavouring to control the deer upon his land, and has failed through no fault of his own, no charge will lie for a share of the expenses of the committee's operations; but where an owner has unreasonably failed to take steps to reduce the number of deer on his land, he will be liable for a share of the cost. There is a provision for an appeal by the owner to the Department with respect to the committee's assessment of the charges for which he is liable and for a reduction of the charges if there is good reason for it. It will also be observed that the value of the services given by an owner during these operations will be credited to him. The owner will also be liable to contribute to the cost of operations carried out under Clause 5, the object of which, as is obvious, is the prevention of any increase in the area at present devoted to the maintenance of deer. This provision is clearly in the national interest as well as in the interest of individual farmers, since any extension nowadays of the recognised deer forest areas must take place at the expense of the agricultural industry.

Of the incidental and minor provisions in this Part of the Bill, there are only two which I need specially mention. One is Clause 4 (9), which requires that where a local committee has been authorised to enter on lands for the killing of deer it is required to give one week's notice to the owner and tenant and to give these persons an opportunity of assisting in the work. Moreover, no such entry is permissible during the period from April 10 to October 16, which covers, roughly speaking, the breeding and shooting seasons. Your Lordships will also observe from Clause 11 of the Bill that the residual expenses of the operations carried out under the Act—that is to say, the expenses which are not recoverable from the owners—shall be shared equally by the Treasury and the county council concerned. We hope that that will commend itself as a fair arrangement.

On Part II of the Bill, dealing with rabbits, it is perhaps unnecessary, as I have already said, for me to say very much. I would inform your Lordships that amendments which have been made by this House to the text of the English Bill have been incorporated in this Bill, and it is desired that the two measures shall follow generally the same lines. There is, however, one important difference in the Bill now before your Lordships' House, for in Scotland it is proposed to vest the administration of the law in the central Department—that is, the Department of Agriculture—instead of in the county councils, as in the case of the English Bill. May I assure your Lordships that there is no sinister significance in this departure from the English Bill? As many of your Lordships will be aware, a great many agricultural services which are in charge of the local authorities in England are administered centrally in Scotland, and it has been made clear to the Government, in the course of the discussions which have taken place with the various parties interested, that it is the desire of all concerned—farmers, landowners and the county councils—that the same practice should be followed in this case.

Under Part III of the Bill it is proposed to effect some amendment of the Ground Game Acts extending from 1880 to 1906. These Acts were, of course, passed a long time ago in circumstances which differed very materially from the circumstances of the present day. Fifty years ago the rabbit was still regarded as an animal of some value and profit, and although the Acts admitted a farmer's right to prevent the rabbits becoming an extensive pest, a number of restrictions accompanied the exercise of his right. These restrictions were no doubt imposed in the interest of game protection generally, and also perhaps in some places to prevent the extension of the rabbit, which was still regarded with a more or less kindly eye. Thus, in the case of moorland and unenclosed land—such, for example, as the great bulk of the area of a sheep farm—the farmer is allowed to kill rabbits and hares only during the period from September 1 to March 31, and he may use firearms for the purpose only from December 11 to March 31. He may not tamper with the rabbits during their breeding season, from April onwards. So it comes about that, however energetic he is in killing off the vermin on his arable land, he may still be sure that the stocks will be replenished from outside by the autumn. At the same time his unenclosed pastures are, of course, being denuded by rapidly-increasing hordes of rabbits of the food required for his sheep and cattle.

The object of the first part of Clause 15 is to enable the farmer to kill rabbits on unenclosed land all the year round, with the exception that he may use firearms only during the period from November 1 to March 31. The extension by six weeks of the period during which firearms may be used is a proposal which your Lordships may very well wish to discuss. It is inserted on the view that ground shooting is practically over by the end of October, if not before, and that some advantage may therefore be gained in the campaign against the rabbit pest by allowing the use of firearms after that date. There is no doubt, however, as many of your Lordships will agree from personal experience, that trapping and gassing are the most effective means of destruction, and that the important thing is to give the maximum of facilities in that respect to the occupiers.

The only other amendment of the Ground Game Acts to which I think I need refer is as follows. In present circumstances, apart from the occupier himself, members of his own household and farm employees, he may only employ one person to trap. Effective trapping, however, requires two or more people, and when the farmer and his hands are busy with farming operations the restriction creates a real difficulty. With the safeguards provided—that is to say, as to the number of additional persons who may be so authorised—I hope that your Lordships will agree that there can be no great objection to this amendment of the, Act, which is asked for by the National Farmers' Union of Scotland.

The remaining provisions of the Bill, I think, call for no special comment. I would only say in conclusion that, in commending the Bill to your Lordships, the Government hope that it will be generally welcomed, and that not merely as a measure for the assistance of agricultural interests but in the national interest as well. I am satisfied, from what I have heard of the discussions which have taken place and as a result of which this Bill has been drafted, that the proposals in the Bill accord generally with reasonable opinion amongst all parties, including the landowners of Scotland themselves. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)


My Lords, my noble friends can satisfy the noble Marquess on the last matter to which he referred. We do not intend to offer any opposition to the Bill. We have examined it. We think it appears rather cumbersome and in parts rather complicated. One or two of the clauses are very difficult to follow, and we should have thought that the drafting might have been simplified. But on the other hand, there are a great many matters to be taken care of in the Bill, and perhaps that is inevitable. With regard to the remarks of the noble Marquess about the increase of deer so as to become pests in certain parts of the country, my information is that one reason for that is that there has not been enough shooting of hinds in the winter. The reason is an economic one: it is, I understand, that many of the proprietors in Scotland to-day are not in a position to employ enough men to do this. It is at a season of the year when hind shooting is rather inconvenient, as most people who have already been doing it for sport have gone south.

I have another observation to make. The noble Marquess said there had been a good deal of exaggeration about the land which could be used for agricultural purposes and which is now under deer. There has, of course, been a lot of exaggeration about that. Very large areas of the Highlands are only suitable for deer, and I personally hope that they will always be sanctuaries for deer; they could not be used for anything else. On the other hand, vast areas in Scotland which were under sheep or were tilled should be used again for sheep and/or agriculture. The Party for which I speak believe that all these Bills are only tinkering with the subject and that the land problem in the Highlands—and indeed in all Scotland—can only be solved by the whole of the land being taken over for the benefit of the community. We should then be able to say that certain areas are the most suitable for deer, other areas for sheep, other areas for settlement and agriculture, and proceed accordingly. However, we do not expect the Government to bring in a measure of that kind just yet, and we can only wait patiently for our opportunity to arise when that and other problems can be dealt with.

The only other observation I would make is that I note that the Bill does not apply to deer other than red deer. The roe deer are not included. My opinion is that though roe deer have increased they do not do a great deal of damage, and personally I am very glad that these beautiful deer are not included in this Bill. I hope they will be allowed to increase a great deal more in Scotland. Generally speaking, my noble friends will be prepared to give the Bill their support.


My Lords, in making the few remarks I propose to make this afternoon on the Bill before your Lordships' House, I should like to make quite clear that I do so in no spirit of hostility to the principle of the Bill. I think I am representing the views of certainly most, if not all, proprietors of deer forests in Scotland when I say that I recognise the grievance that does undoubtedly exist—that is, the damage done by deer to grazing and agricultural ground, especially in winter when they are driven down by storms from the higher ground. I think, too, that we are all agreed in Scotland that there are far too many deer, and that owing to the very poor nature of the soil in most forests there is not enough food for that number. The truth of that is seen in the very inferior heads one finds in most forests, and the reason why deer come to lower ground is to seek better feeding than they can get in the high lands.

As the noble Marquess said, the problem has been discussed for many years and various suggestions have been made to deal with it. I should be only too happy if an agreed Bill passed which would remedy the undoubted evil. Having said that much, however, I feel bound to add that in my opinion there is a great deal of misconception, as has been said, in the minds of the general public about deer forests in Scotland. They are described as vast pleasure grounds which ought to be devoted to agriculture and which are kept entirely as playgrounds for the idle rich. That, of course, is very far from the truth, as has been stated already. In most cases the land is not fit for any other purpose, and I would remind your Lordships that deer forests are really a very valuable asset to Scotland. They bring in money, they give employment to a great many people where no other employment is possible, and in some counties they provide a very large proportion of the rates. If anything were done to diminish the value or abolish the value of deer forests it would, I think, be a very serious matter for the counties themselves.

I realise that this is not the most appropriate moment to go into details, which can be better dealt with in Committee, but there are one or two points to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. One is the proposal that owners of deer forests should erect and maintain deer fences to prevent deer getting on to grazing and agricultural land. That, if I may say so, is an absolute impossibility. The cost of erecting, let alone of maintaining, deer fences would be prohibitive, and in some cases I know it would be quite impossible to erect fences at all owing to the nature of the ground. Again, I know of places where fences, even if erected, would be laid flat and entirely destroyed by one winter storm. Therefore I think that the proposal to erect fences is not a very feasible one.

Again, supposing deer are found on agricultural land, who is able to say from what forest they come? Who is the owner who is responsible? Who is the culprit? Another point I should like to mention is the composition of, and the powers proposed to be given to, the Advisory Committee, which I think will require very careful examination. I do not propose to say anything further about that, as I know that a speaker who is to follow me will deal with that subject. Expressing a purely personal opinion I should have thought it would be very much better to schedule genuine deer forests and make it obligatory on owners to kill off a certain proportion of the deer on their ground, according to their acreage, and allow all deer elsewhere to be destroyed. But I know that that does not find favour with His Majesty's Government, and therefore I do not propose to say anything further about it. As I say, the principle underlying the Bill has my hearty support, but I think it will be necessary to make a number of Amendments and I appeal to the noble Marquess in charge of the Bill to deal with them sympathetically, as I think it is of the utmost importance that a Bill of this sort should be carried with the unanimous approval of all concerned.


My Lords, I pray the indulgence of your Lordships as a member speaking in your Lordships' House for the first time. I think in the past few years the habits of deer have changed to a certain extent in the county from which I come. In the forests people have been trying to kill as many hinds as they can in the winter and stags in the stalking season. That is all very well when you have stalkers available, but I am afraid the result has not been altogether too good. It has no doubt driven a lot of deer down into the low country to get away from regular shooting. There they have taken up their home in the winter and have done a good deal of damage. Unfortunately, on the low ground there is no one to push the deer back into the forest. I think that all people who own deer forests will agree that we should like someone to push them back into the forests but the only way to do that is by regular stalking. I do not think extermination in certain areas is practicable. You would only push the deer on to some other area, where they might do more harm than they were doing before. Therefore in my opinion the only way to overcome the damage is for the deer regulation committees to institute regular stalking in areas where damage is being done by deer, and I believe this would have a very good effect in time.


My Lords, there is only one point I would like to mention, and that is one which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elphinstone. It seems to me that the erection of fences might do more harm than good. Suppose the deer get through them, you cannot push them back to the forest: you have fenced them out of the forest. Fences may be more dangerous than useful.


My Lords, I do not wish to claim the attention of your Lordships for more than a short time, but as proprietor of several deer forests I would venture to make a few remarks. Although this Bill may cause opposition in certain quarters, it must be generally admitted that it is long overdue. Owing to a variety of reasons, deer have of recent years increased beyond their bounds. They have done considerable damage to afforestation, and in certain cases they have become a menace to agriculture. Given this state of affairs, it seems advisable and indeed inevitable to take active steps against them. It seems to me the success of this Bill will stand or fall by the members that comprise the Advisory Committee which w ill work in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture. No Government Department is remarkable for imagination or elasticity, nor should it be so. Admirable as the Department of Agriculture is, it seems imperative that it should be guided by a Committee composed of men with a personal knowledge of the management of deer forests and of the habits of deer. I may be wrong, but I fear that despite the wording of Clause 2 the Department may find power to nullify the advice of this Advisory Committee. I would like to be reassured on this point. As the Bill stands, the Department has complete control of the situation.

There are other clauses—in chief I refer to that about fencing which has already been dealt with by the noble Lord. But there is also a financial threat to the county councils. Both these clauses must be carefully reconsidered. A general ruling on fencing might cause ruin to a large proprietor, and there is another way of dealing with this question. In this connection I should like to mention the County of Ross, in the Northern Highlands, where the local proprietors have effectively combined to investigate and redress all causes of complaint. This measure has met with complete success in all cases. Your Lordships are aware that a deer forest proper can be managed in such a way as to provide sufficient keep for the necessary deer upon it. Unfortunately, Highland estates have been broken up and the old order has gone with them. Elsewhere winter feeding grounds have been planted over by the Forestry Commission, and again electric power schemes have all tended to drive herds of deer into low land and agricultural areas, with unfortunate results. It will be the task of the Advisory Committee to differentiate between the controlled and harmless denizens of the forest proper where there is no legal claim for such, and the tracks of sheep ground and grass moor bordering on cultivation which recently has become the uneasy habitat of tribes of Goths and Vandals badly stalked and badly super- vised. This differentiation can be no easy task. It may cause unpopularity, but it is very necessary. In supporting an amended Bill I do so for two reasons: that it will grant benefit to the agriculturists and will give quality and not quantity to the deer forest.


My Lords, one always hesitates to intervene in a debate in your Lordships' House, which is so full of experts on so many subjects. The fact that there are so many people present who are more qualified than oneself does indeed make one hesitant, but on a measure such as this I feel that it is the wish of your Lordships that those who have deer interests and who have some measure of experience, however small, should give what humble advice they find possible on the subject. When I say those with experience, I mean those who have obtained their knowledge of the habits of deer not just from the autumn when they come to do the stalking, but from watching the deer at all times of the year. And it is only in that way that it can be properly obtained. Those of us who have been endeavouring to tackle this problem for some little time now are all, I think, agreed that there is a very real problem which has to be dealt with, and they are most anxious that the best means should be found to deal with the question.

But I think it would be advantageous if I might point out the reasons why this situation has arisen. It is not from neglect in any form. There are three reasons as I see them. The first and chief one is the economic factor, by which for a good number of years after the War forests remained unlet. The owners were unable to afford to shoot them, and for quite a number of years the deer were not properly dealt with. The second factor which I think had an influence was the fact of the general tendency, if I may say so, of the younger generation, to be less anxious to use the lower portion of their anatomy in the active pursuit of the game; they prefer to sit down and have it driven for them. The third reason was the fact that many forests were not let on lease, and therefore those who had forests let on lease were more anxious to obtain good rates and not so anxious to care for the forest as they should and kill off all the rubbish, which has actually been extended.

If I might—I will be as brief as I can—I would like to stress the point that the area which is covered by deer and occupied by deer is divided more or less into two categories. There is the deer forest proper, where, as has already been said, little other use in many cases can be made of that ground. There is ground of course where both sheep and deer occupy the same area, and the second part, the lower ground where, through this general increase with which we are trying to deal, the deer have been induced to stray, and not only to stray, but to stay if the hinds can drop their calves there. Not only have they stayed there because they have been undisturbed possibly, but in some cases they have been encouraged, and it is not an unnatural point of view from those who suddenly find themselves in a position to offer five or ten stags a year on their shooting leases which are an added attraction. Therefore you can hardly blame them if they have not wished to do all the disturbing which should really be done.

But the fact is that those conditions have reached a certain point where they are really becoming a serious menace to the agricultural interest. I am referring to the straying of deer on the lower ground. I would like to say just one word about the two interests, agricultural and sporting. As has already been said, the theory has been exploded that these tracts of ground are kept for sport and pleasure of the owner, because there are very few owners now who can afford to shoot their own places and, except in the case of high deer forests, nearly all ground is used for dual purposes, that is to say, grouse moor and grazing. What is good for grouse is good for sheep, and if you care for the land properly for sheep you are caring for grouse. Both have identical interests. Now we come to a point which I rather want to make. Of course we know that the agricultural industry is vital in Scotland. Most of us who happen to own deer forests are heavily connected with that industry as it is. We realise that, but we must not forget—and I cannot emphasize this too strongly; I think it has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elphinstone—that those sporting activities are not now just what they were, they are a business.

There is a real live industry employing an enormous number of men. They are bringing a great deal of money into the country. They are bringing a great deal of money into the revenue and into the local coffers, and making it possible to carry on the administration of the country as it is now in the pretty efficient way in which it is carried on. I refer to police, roads, and other matters. It is through these sporting propensities that Scotland is able to maintain itself at the level it is. Seeing that it is a business, I do impress upon His Majesty's Government to use all the foresight and knowledge they can, and their power when taking these measures to see that its interests are not done away with. And I can say this, that whether the land remains in its present hands, or whether it goes into the hands of the State, they will be ill advised if they allow these valuable assets to disappear, because they bring such an enormous value to the country as a whole in maintaining various activities.

Having dealt with the preliminary case I come to the Bill itself, and I want to say, like all the other speakers, that having studied this measure, although we may not like some of it, yet we are quite convinced that generally speaking in principle this measure is necessary. We are convinced that some form of universal co-ordination is entirely necessary if you are to keep down the deer. Keeping down the deer is not an easy matter. It is not so simple a matter as sending out troops with machine guns, as some people seem to think. The deer do not belong to one forest or to one particular person. They drift enormous distances, and therefore it is only by a measure which can co-ordinate and deal with the problem in the manner suggested by the Government that you will be able to deal with this problem. I, too, would like to emphasize the fact that although this Bill is necessary it does not mean that measures have not been taken privately. They have. Enormous trouble and care has been taken, and large sums of money have been spent already, but unfortunately those efforts have not borne the fruits that we would like to see. The problem still remains a very large one, and one which can only be dealt with in the manner which has been suggested.

Therefore I fully support the Bill as it stands, but bearing in mind the facts that have tried to put before your Lordships. While I appreciate the various safeguards which the Government have given, yet I would emphasize that it is vitally important that they should see that the best men are put on the various committees. They should be men who can command the respect and confidence both of the agricultural industry and the sporting industry, who through their own reasonable activities will, I think, be able to bring some measure of relief in regard to this matter. There are two or three points which I think will have to be amended in the Bill in Committee. One has already been mentioned, and it is the question of deer fencing. My own experience is that it is uneconomic and not practical. The fencing has been erected and maintained at enormous cost, and quite frequently when the drifts are big the fences do not serve the purpose, because the deer simply walk across them. Therefore I think the Government will have to consider whether this should be insisted upon. Another point to which I would call attention is on page 9 of the Bill, where it is suggested that the expenses should be paid half by the Treasury and half by the county council. From my own personal point of view I should be delighted that they should be paid by the county council, but do the Government think the councils will like it? We know already what bitter feelings there are with regard to expenditure which is put upon the county councils. However, I hope your Lordships will give this measure a happy Second Reading.


My Lords, the Government deserve and will secure support for their proposals to prevent damage by deer and rabbits, and for the destruction of rabbits and the better control of deer as to numbers and straying. This subject is one, however, which it is most difficult to legislate upon, and all sorts of points crop up when the effort is made. While I think the Scottish Office have been on the whole quite successful, they may perhaps feel themselves that this is not yet a perfect measure. They have at any rate done their utmost to secure agreement on the part of different organisations and people who are most concerned, and there will be a general wish to help the Government in securing their object. The aim is right, but the difficulty is how to secure the results. A reference has been made to the example in Ross-shire, and I think this is so striking that it deserves an even wider recognition. It is still not too late, perhaps, to urge that it should be copied by people in other parts. The great majority of owners would welcome a solution of any outstanding deer forest problem, and an end to any grievance, but at the same time no one would wish to see the deterioration of our magnificent highland forests and stags.

At the present moment, while we are considering this Bill there are many who have studied the Report of the Highlands and Islands Committee, and in another place the Access to Mountains Bill is under consideration, and it is most important that neither in the Bill in another place nor in this Bill should any slip be made which will bring a loss to Scotland of local trade and employment. In the South of Scotland, and in other places where we do not have deer stalking, our only trouble is from another kind of deer. The trouble in our case is to the landowners more than to the tenant farmers. The trouble is to our plantations and our forestry operations, which are often seriously handicapped by the large number of roe deer and other deer roaming the country. If the Government would be kind enough to help others in a similar way such help would be very welcome.

Very little has been said, so far, about the rabbits. Speaking as a landowner I would advocate the destruction of rabbits, in the interest of landowners and tenant farmers, as being essential to good farming and afforestation. I am sure that all those who spend much time in personal attention to farming and afforestation realise the importance of the elimination of the rabbit. The amount of food consumed, and the injury done in the fouling of the ground, quite outweigh any possible advantages. Again, it is difficult to legislate for the extermination of rabbits and I think in addition some assistance from public opinion is very important. I would like to see a campaign in conjunction with this Bill from the Scottish Office and from all organisations both working for the landowners and the farmers, and also from the Press, to bring home to the owners of land and all who have the opportunity of reducing their rabbits, the importance of doing so. We know many cases of individual effort and success but in those cases any advantage is generally reduced by the action, or lack of action, of their neighbours. Many others have similar experiences to my own in that respect. Under this Bill I suppose individuals will be expected to report on, or complain of, their neighbours, which will not be a pleasant task, but it has brought out how important co-operation between neighbours to reduce this vermin and this pest is now and will be in the future.

Then again, we know there are many who like to see a few rabbits about the place, or who on humane grounds do not like to see them killed; but I hope it can be brought home to those people that we must look upon this as an economic question. The argument is sometimes used, or the excuse is sometimes made by those who do not kill their rabbits, that if the imports from other countries were not so numerous and the price was better there would be more inducement to kill them; but this argument again is quite wrong, because it only encourages rabbit catchers to keep more rabbits so as to have a better crop the following year. Many tenant farmers think that a five-pound note for their rabbits now and again is worth having, but this is a delusion because the damage to their land and crops far outweighs that consideration. What is needed is a will and a determination to kill the rabbits and a recognition that that is the better policy. I hope, now that the Government have stepped in, that they will be able to take a hand in this. Only last summer I was privileged to take the Royal English Forestry Society through woodlands in Northamptonshire where, less than two generations ago, over 1,000 rabbits a day made a common bag. On this particular day during the course of several hours not one single rabbit was seen, and it was commented on with much surprise by those who take the view that it is not possible to stamp out the rabbit.

There are in the clauses referring to rabbits a few points which require attention. In Clause 12, subsection (1), I think the notice is a little ambiguous, and the proviso in that subsection is far from clear. Then a right of appeal for the occupant was asked for in the case of the English Bill only a short time ago, and I think it is quite fair that it should be included, as it will be required, in the case of this Bill. I would thank the Government for their attention to this very serious problem of rabbits. I do not feel that the noble Marquess emphasized quite as much as he might have done the real damage that is being done to agriculture and forestry and the additional expense caused by rabbits. I hope this disciplinary measure will be useful.


My Lords, with the exception of the noble Duke who has just spoken and who directed his main attention to rabbits, all the speakers this afternoon have been forest owners, and the reason that I am inflicting myself on your Lordships for a few minutes is that I come under a different category—namely, that of those unfortunates whose ground up to a few years ago was entirely free from deer but who now, totally against their wishes, are obliged to carry a considerable stock. Perthshire has been largely the centre of the trouble about the excessive numbers of deer, and this has been due almost entirely to the action of one proprietor, who for a number of years after the War did not reduce his stock sufficiently until at last it became so large that one season several waves of deer, many hundreds in number, left the ground for good and spread far and wide. This forest is something like thirty miles from my own ground, separated by large areas of purely agricultural country, and yet there is no doubt that it is from that forest that the deer which are now on my land, or their ancestors, originally came.

Actually while they remain on the high ground, my own experience has been that they have done very little damage, as they seem to come down to the farms only on rare occasions in severe weather. What is more serious is that a considerable number of them are now reverting to the proper habit of the deer, which is a woodland animal rather than a dweller upon the high tops, and are taking to the woods; and once deer get down into thick young woods not only do they damage the plantations very considerably but it is very difficult indeed to extirpate them. It must be remembered that when they are on the edge of cultivated land and in woods of dense or semi-dense character it is hardly ever possible to use a rifle without grave danger to human life. Accordingly, the deer have to be pursued with shotguns, which is a difficult thing, and also a very brutal one, as usually three or four deer are peppered for every one that is brought into the bag.

If we succeed, as I think we undoubtedly shall, in reducing to an absolute minimum the deer which have strayed from their proper haunts, and in many areas in exterminating them altogether, we shall still be faced with the possibility of fresh incursions from the forests, and I am afraid I cannot altogether accept the theory that it is not possible more drastically to reduce the numbers inside the forests themselves. Practically every forest in Scotland, however well administered, carries a certain stock of old deer or young stags which are never likely to be good, either in head or in body, and if proprietors and shooting tenants at the end of the stalking season proper would give instructions to their stalkers to shoot down a considerable number of these bad stags during the winter and early spring, we should, I maintain, avoid a repetition of these great waves of deer which leave overcrowded forest ground. I know that some people do not like the idea, because it means that stags shot after the proper season are unfit for human consumption and can only be thrown away, but the position is sufficiently grave that this waste of potential food would I think be justifiable under the present circumstances.


I do not like to interrupt the noble Earl, but this has been done to a great extent already, and a great many of us are doing it now all through the year.


I am quite aware that there are many people who, like the noble Earl, are doing it, but there are a considerable number of forests, especially those which are not stalked regularly by their owners, where that is not the case. A few days ago a friend of mine was coming south by train, and over a few miles of country on the borders of Inverness-shire and Perthshire, but most particularly in Perthshire, he saw, within a fairly short distance of the railway line, vast parties of deer spread over miles of ground, whose numbers he computed at a moderate estimate to be not less than 10,000 head. My friend is himself the owner of, and himself habitually stalks, a very well managed forest, and he is a person of sane views and by no means super-heated imagination. It is true that this was in bad weather, which would naturally drive most of the deer some way down on to the black ground, where they could get food, but still the fact that such a number could be seen is, I am convinced, a sign that there are far too many deer in that neighbourhood in north Perthshire. They will have to be severely reduced, and I believe that that can be done in a very short space of time if owners and tenants of deer forests will give the necessary instructions.

In regard to the rabbit question, I have only one word to say, and that is that I think it is rather unfortunate that in all these Bills dealing with ground game hares and rabbits are treated as one. The hare, although capable of doing considerable damage, is by no means such a pest as the rabbit, and can be much more easily controlled; and, particularly in regard to high ground and moors, I think it might be advisable on the Committee stage not to include hares with rabbits, as otherwise there will be considerable abuse of the right to pursue ground game towards the end of the shooting season. I should like in conclusion to express my entire agreement with the objects of the Bill, which, subject to various emendations in Committee, will, I am sure, go far to remedy what is a very real scourge at the present time.


My Lords, the matters contained in the various clauses of this Bill have been so adequately dealt with that I need not take up your Lordships' time, but, if the noble Marquess who introduced the Bill will permit me, there is one small point I should like to raise for his consideration. We have in Scotland now a National Trust. As many of your Lordships will know, it is in its infancy as compared with the National Trust in England. Our National Trust for Scotland to-day owns at least one large area which was in the old days deer forest, which has always been deer ground, and which I understand is entirely surrounded still by ground devoted to deer forest purposes. It is consequently impossible, and it would be in my view undesirable, to exterminate and to keep out always the deer from this area. I need hardly tell your Lordships that under the arrangements of the National Trust this large tract of land is open to the public to walk over where and when they will, and it would be a great loss were they not able to see some deer luring the course of their travels.

I have been asked to put to the noble Marquess the point as to whether any provision tan perhaps be made in this Bill whereby the National Trust will be treated in a way slightly different from the ordinary landlord. It has to be pointed out that this land is held by the Trust not for sporting purposes. It is not for that purpose at all that they acquired it, nor is it I believe taxed on such a basis, and those who are responsible for this rather young production, of which many of us in Scotland are very proud, are anxious lest the provisions of this Bill may operate against the National Trust in a way which nobody would desire. I therefore in that general way put the point to the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, for his kindly consideration.

Dealing with the Bill generally, here is a Bill which we from Scotland all welcome. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has touched on the point that some landlords in his area do not properly kill their deer. That is exactly why we want this Bill; that is the reason for the Bill. There is no doubt in my mind that there is room in Scotland to-day for a drastic reduction in the number of deer, and it is for that purpose, I take it, that the Government are bringing this Bill before your Lordships to-day. Turning for a moment to the question of rabbits, with which my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch dealt, when it comes to rabbits it seems to me men are divided in two camps—those who wish to destroy them and those who cannot bear to be unkind to them. Between these camps is fixed a gulf which is deep and wide and cannot in my view be crossed. Either you are going to destroy your rabbits or you are going to be kind to them; you cannot do both. There is no halfway house. I speak from considerable personal experience when I assure your Lordships that if you are going to destroy your rabbits, you have to destroy them in every way you can, and at all times. There is no other way of doing it. I am sometimes interested to see the number of people who urge the destruction of rabbits and then loudly decry the use of any form of trap or method of killing them which would in their estimation be cruel or unkind to "poor little animals."

Finally, here is a Bill which, in principle, we all want. We welcome it. Deer have undoubtedly done great damage for many years. Rabbits I regard as one of the enemies of British agriculture. If they can be reduced and kept within their proper proportions, and the deer within their proper areas, the country of Scotland will benefit, and I can think of nobody who will not be pleased.


My Lords, everything on this Bill has been so well said that I would not venture to intervene in the debate except as a deer forest owner. It would be deplorable if any debate in your Lordships' House allowed the idea to spread for a moment that the owners of deer forests were in any way antagonistic to the measures proposed by the Government. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord on the other side of the House recognise that in his speech. Undoubtedly deer forest owners and deer forests do lend themselves to Party capital and propaganda. I only rise to say, as a deer forest owner myself, that I am sure all the proprietors in Scotland recognise there are too many deer. They would like to see them cut down, and in many cases, they make great personal efforts to do so. For the last five years I have, myself, spent the winter in Scotland and have studied the question. Undoubtedly the damage which is reported in the newspapers is frequently non-existent or largely exaggerated. I have tried to localise where the complaints have come from, and I have here a letter from the Department of Agriculture in which they say that complaints from individual landholders are comparatively rare. At the same time there is a feeling of grievance in Scotland, and I welcome this measure wholeheartedly. I believe that if it is worked with good will on both sides, a great deal of good will be done.


My Lords, I would like to say a few words in welcoming this Bill. There is only one point of criticism I would venture to make, and that is that Clause 14 (2) on page 10, at line 23, may require some very careful wording. The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill talked about stimulating owners. I am not at all sure that occupiers do not require at least as much stimulation. I have known more than one case where the proprietor killed every head of rabbit on his property, and in at least one case the property was restocked, in part at any rate, by the occupier. It is possible that Clause 14 (2) might tend to diminish the natural sporting interest of the proprietor in his property, and in the end might not be very successful.


My Lords, it is very gratifying to find in all quarters of the House warm approval of the principles underlying this measure, and it looks very much as if by the time we have finished with the Bill it will prove to be an agreed measure. I was grateful to the noble Lord who is leading the Opposition for his support. His chief criticism of the Bill was that the drafting of it made it difficult to follow, that the text was complicated. I agree with the noble Lord, but that is my experience of every Bill that comes before your Lordships' House. I always find great difficulty, myself, in understanding the language of Bills. In that matter we have to trust largely to the skill of the draftsman and accept his word for it that the words he uses are the words which must be there to express the intention which we have. It was gratifying to find that support was given to this Bill, not only by those who are keen agriculturists, but also by the owners of the deer forests themselves. Many of your Lordships have spoken with great knowledge both of agriculture and of deer forests, and amongst them may I include the noble Earl, Lord Dalhousie, who was addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, and whom I would like to congratulate upon his intervention in this debate. May I express the hope that we shall in the future often have the advantage of the noble Earl's contributions to our discussions?

Such criticism as there has been has concentrated in the main on two points. The first is the provision with regard to the erection of deer-proof fences. My noble friend Lord Elphinstone said that in many cases it would be impossible to set up a deer-proof fence. Of course I entirely agree with the noble Lord: I know places myself where a deer-proof fence would be an impossibility. But may I remind your Lordships that these powers will be exercised by the Department after consultation with the Central Advisory Committee? That Committee will contain men who have intimate knowledge of these problems, and it would therefore be very unlikely that the Central Advisory Committee would advise the Department to ask the owner of a deer forest to set up a fence where it was clearly for practical reasons impossible for him to do so. Nevertheless, I am very willing, and my right honourable friend is very willing, to listen to any further representations with regard to that particular aspect of the Bill which your Lordships may wish to make to us. When the Commttee stage is reached, we shall be very willing to consider any proposal which any of your Lordships may make with a view to providing, let us say, further safeguards against the arbitrary use of this power. The other main point upon which, I will not say criticism, but comment has concentrated is the personnel of the Central Advisory Committee and of the deer regulation committees. I agree entirely with the noble Lord who stressed the importance of a careful selection of the persons who are to serve on these bodies, and he may rest assured that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will of course be responsible for the personnel of the Central Advisory Committee, has very much in mind the importance of selecting suitable persons.

My noble friend the Earl of Leven and Melville put in a plea for the National Trust for Scotland, and suggested that certain differential treatment should be meted out to the Trust. I need hardly assure the noble Earl that, as chairman of the sister body in England, I have every sympathy with the object and the wishes of the National Trust for Scotland. I am not sure, however, that I have appreciated precisely what it is that he thinks might be done. After all, the machinery of this Bill will not be set in motion unless there are complaints from persons suffering from the depredations of deer or of ground game. If the National Trust for Scotland own property which can harbour deer without inflicting damage upon the agricultural aspects of the property, then I presume no complaint will be made, and the machinery of the Bill will therefore not be brought into operation. I am, however, quite willing to look further into that matter in consultation with the noble Earl, in case I have not fully appreciated what it is that he has in mind.

My noble friend the Earl of Airlie expressed doubts whether the county councils would be very willing to accept their share of the costs of putting the provisions of this measure into operation. On that point I am able to say that there has been some consultation with the representatives of those county councils which are likely to be most nearly concerned by this Bill. So far as my information goes, there has been no suggestion that they will be unwilling to bear their share of the costs.


I hope the noble Marquess is right.


If I may interrupt for one moment, I may say that the Perth County Council strongly object to paying any portion of them.


It may well be that further consultations will be necessary, but, so far as that matter goes, that is my present information. May I say in conclusion with what interest and pleasure I listened to all the speeches, and particularly, perhaps, to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, whose father took so helpful a part in the negotiations which have taken place between the various interests concerned and had so intimate a personal knowledge of all sides of this question, particularly of afforestation and kindred subjects? It was indeed gratifying to me to find that, though he had some comment to make on particular details of the Bill, the Bill as a whole met with his warm commendation.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.