§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—[The Earl of Home.]
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [THE EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]
§ Clause 1 [Prohibition of Poaching]:
§ LORD BROCKET moved, in subsection (1) to substitute "thirty pounds" for "twenty pounds." The noble Lord said: I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name; that is to say, to leave out "twenty pounds" and to insert "thirty pounds" as the fine under this clause. The Committee will be well aware of the inflationary tendencies of these times. In addition, as I mentioned in the debate on the Second Reading, whereas in 1932 a stag's carcase might be sold for 25s., nowadays the carcase of a stag may fetch as much as £25. The average stag in Scotland—or, at any rate, on the West Coast where I live—may be taken as weighing about fifteen stone with its heart and liver in, after being gralloched. 86 A fifteen-stone stag, when it is ready to go to the butcher or to the place where it is to be sold, usually contains about 150 lb. of meat, and at 2s. 6d. a lb. noble Lords will see that that stag would be worth about £19. A large stag of twenty stone, by the same calculation, would be worth £25. If a poacher can shoot his stag and get away with it and sell it at 2s. 6d. a lb., he will have made a profit of £5 on a large stag of twenty stone, after paying the fine. It seems to me ludicrous that a fine for an act of this kind should allow the poacher to make a profit on his misdemeanour.
§ The price of 2s. 6d. lb. which is now obtainable for venison may very well go up, and it may be that large stags will fetch as much as £30. I think, therefore, that it is necessary to increase the fine to thirty pounds from twenty pounds, not only to prevent Scotsmen making a profit out of a particular misdemeanour, but also as a deterrent. I think that this Bill should be regarded as a deterrent to the poaching of deer. I hope the noble Earl who replies on behalf of Her Majesty's Government may see his way to accept my Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 10, leave out ("twenty") and insert ("thirty").—(Lord Brocket.)
May I briefly support this Amendment? I think the noble Lord's argument is strengthened by the increase of prices under modern conditions. Moreover, it may not be only one deer that the poacher takes; he may take two or three, in which event, of course, the value may be much higher. In view of the different values of money to-day, I should have thought that thirty pounds would be a more suitable amount for this grave offence.
The draftsmen of the Bill obviously had in mind that twenty pounds plus the value of the deer was an adequate penalty. If the deer has already been disposed of, one part of the penalty has already gone; so that to make the line twenty pounds plus the value of the carcase of the deer would certainly be more logical, at least, than a fine of twenty pounds.
THE EARL OF HOME
I am glad that the noble Lord has raised this question, but I am afraid that I cannot see my way 87 to accept the Amendment. We have calculated what is a balanced code of fines, and it must be remembered that this fine applies to the single individual who may go out and filch a deer. When it is a matter of two or more individuals, then, of course, the fines are stepped-up very much—and there is the alternative of imprisonment. This particular paragraph deals only with the individual who may go out and shoot a deer, or possibly a number of deer. Of course, in nine cases out of ten, when an individual shoots a deer he will be found in possession of the carcase. In that event he will forfeit the carcase and pay the maximum fine of twenty pounds. My noble friend's Amendment deals with the man who has shot a deer and may have disposed of it, evidence having come along afterwards. In that event he suggests that it would be more appropriate that the fine should be thirty pounds. As I say, the feeling of the Government in this matter is that twenty pounds is a reasonable fine to apply to a single individual. The noble Lord has made his point, but I am sorry that I cannot accept his Amendment at this time, although I have no doubt his arguments will be noted when the Bill goes to another place.
§ LORD BROCKET
Before I press my Amendment, may I ask the noble Earl who has just replied on behalf of Her Majesty's Government whether, if I withdraw my Amendment, he will reconsider this matter carefully before the next stage of the Bill?
THE EARL OF HOME
Yes, I have no objection to reconsidering, it. But I should not like to mislead the noble Lord: I very much doubt whether we shall alter our minds. However, I will carefully reconsider it.
I think the noble Earl should take note of the fact that the only voice raised from the other side of the House on this Amendment was in agreement with it. Many noble Lords on this side also think it is a very reasonable Amendment. I hope the noble Earl will discuss the matter with his right honourable friend and his official advisers very carefully.
§ EARL JOWITT
I agree with what has been said from behind me. This seems to me a very reasonable Amendment. 88 After all, it has to be remembered that the fine is only a penalty "not exceeding"—it is a maximum penalty. That does not mean that it will be enforced in every case. It seems odd that one individual who shoots a deer may be allowed to make a profit out of his wrongdoing. I hope the noble Earl will reconsider the matter. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, has made out his case.
THE EARL OF HOME
There is obviously a feeling that the fine may reasonably be raised to thirty pounds. I will certainly undertake to consider this point and bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend.
§ LORD BROCKET
Under those conditions, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment at this stage, but I may put it forward again at a later stage and press it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
THE EARL OF HOME
The next Amendment covers much the same ground as a number of Amendments later on the Paper in the names of Lord Teviot and Lord Brocket. As they cover the same point, it may perhaps be convenient if we have a general discussion on these Amendments to cover the whole question of a close season.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON moved, after Clause 1 to insert the following new clause:
§ Close season for deer.
§ ".The Secretary of State shall within three months after the passing of this Act, make Regulations establishing an annual close season during which the killing of deer except for humane purposes shall be an offence under this Act; and such Regulations shall be laid before Parliament and shall not come into force until they have been approved by both Houses of Parliament."
§ The noble Lord said: I think it would be for the convenience of the House, as the noble Earl says, to have a general discussion on this question of a close season. We are now coming to what I may call the main bone of contention of the Bill. Yet, curiously enough, so far as this House is concerned there was no contention on the Second Reading. There was absolute and almost complete unanimity.89
If your Lordships will bear with me for a moment or two, I should like to give you a reminder of what was said in the Second Reading debate in this House. I will quote one or two sentences from those who took part in that debate. First, I take the Minister in charge who said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Volume 175, Column 722):
I should like to say that the Government are most sympathetic to the idea of a close season and we are going to keep the question open until the Committee stage of the Bill in the hope that agreement between the various interests may be reached.
It was my task to follow the Minister. I said:
…. if, before the Bill leaves this House, we can get a close season established during which it will be illegal to kill deer, then we shall have done a job of work well worth doing.
The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, then said:
I think there will be profound disappointment throughout the country that this Bill, which seemed to provide a golden opportunity for this most important step, so long overdue, does not provide for a close season.… Why do we ask for a close season? … It is quite indefensible that stags which are in an emaciated condition and, in many cases, too weak to stand or walk, can be shot in the winter months. It is indefensible that hinds should be shot when they are heavy in calf, or when the calves are left to die of starvation on the hill. That will continue until a close season is introduced.
Then I quote rom the noble Lord, Lord Brocket. He said:
I think it is essential to have a close season …
He was followed by the noble Earl, Lord Breadalbane, who said:
Hinds should not be shot after the turn of the New Year, not only because of the ordinary dictates of humanity but because the flesh is more or less rancid. … a whole lot of rancid meat is being put on the market at very high prices and being sent to the table as food.
The next speaker was the noble Duke, the Duke of Bedford, who said:
I agree with those noble Lords who have stressed the importance of a close season.
Then, the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden, said:
If … a close season cannot be agreed to, I suggest that the noble Earl should consider the possibility of specifying a period during which the sale of carcases, or even the transport of deer carcases, is made illegal.
The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, said:
… a close season should be inserted in the Bill.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, added his quota:
in view of the strong appeal for a close season from representatives of all Parties in your Lordships' House, I feel that our opportunity for reaching agreement is now better.
I apologise for all this repetition. I think the Minister himself summed it up perfectly when he referred to it as:
… a remarkable degree of unanimity.
He added this:
I believe that at a meeting held this week between the various interests the dates of a close season were agreed; but the machinery for dealing with deer which over-spill in large numbers in certain areas could not be agreed. The breeders of black-faced sheep did not feel that they would be satisfactorily protected by such arrangements as were suggested. … I will, if I may when I return to Edinburgh this week, take the initiative and get the various parties together to see whether we cannot reconcile this comparatively narrow difference and provide in the Bill for a close season to be set up.
§ LORD MORRISON
The noble Earl. In these circumstances, I naturally refrained from putting down any Amendment to this Bill. I have done so now only because the Minister has not. Probably, the noble Lords, Lord Teviot and Lord Brocket, are in much the same position. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this Amendment. May I say at once that I am not tied at all to the exact words? My Amendment, I admit, may be a little amateurish, but what I want to make clear is that I am not asking the Government to ride roughshod over the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association. No doubt, they are an honest and respectable body. They are only trying to protect their livelihoods. But surely this narrow difference is not going to hold up a valuable reform? I confess that I find it difficult to believe that methods of cruelty cannot be lessened without doing harm to the agricultural interests.
The Minister said that the difference was narrow. With good will on both sides, surely the gap could be closed. May I just sum up by asking: Could any case have been made more explicitly, put in your Lordships' House by eight speakers, than the case that was put for a close season? There was not a single 91 exception taken to the suggestion throughout the whole debate. The Scott Henderson Report recommended a close season. The Government are in favour—the Minister said so. So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, we are all apparently united. But the fact remains that at present there is no provision in the Bill for a close season. I point out to your Lordships that, if this Bill leaves the House without a close season clause, the public will be somewhat mystified. What will they say of your Lordships' House?—that, "They only talk: they do not act." What will they say of this strong Government elected to do things and not merely to "fiddle about" with them? Perhaps some of them will begin to suggest that the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association are more powerful than the Government. Certainly they will appear to be more powerful than the House of Lords.
Presently, the noble Earl the Minister will tell us what happened, and why a Government Amendment is not on the Paper, in spite of this united appeal which we made on the Second Reading. Let us in this matter face realities. If this Bill goes to another place without this amending clause, what happens then? The Bill, if an amending clause is put in in another place, will have to be recommitted, and in the present state of the Parliamentary timetable it seems to me obvious that the Bill will be lost so far as the present Session is concerned. I hope that we shall be able to avoid this calamity, and in an effort to avoid it, and in an effort to try to get some practical result from the unanimous demand of your Lordships on the Second Reading debate, I beg to move my Amendment.
After Clause 1, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Morrison.)
THE EARL OF HOME
I think it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I intervened now, immediately following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. Of course, other noble Lords will then make their points and I shall have an opportunity to answer them. I will put your Lordships in possession of the facts which I have. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has said, there was a unanimous agreement in principle on 92 this matter when we discussed it on the Second Reading of this Bill. There was a unanimous feeling that, if it were at all possible, we should add to this Bill a clause providing for the establishing of a close season. Let me make one thing clear right at the outset—that is, that the Government attach great importance to the provisions of this Bill dealing with gang poaching, apart altogether from a close season, although if we could add a close season, so much the better.
The noble Lord said that I had indicated that the gap between the various bodies concerned in this matter was comparatively narrow. On the last occasion I thought that was so. There are a number of bodies who may be said to be much concerned about this matter. There are not only the black-faced sheep breeders; there are the Forestry Commission, the Nature Conservancy, the National Farmers' Union and the Landowners' Federation. Let me say at once that there has been no lack of good will in this matter. I have had almost endless consultations with all these people in the last few weeks, and everybody has tried to find a practicable method of applying a close season. One thing I should like to say is that, so far as dates are concerned, where we had thought that there was agreement, we now find that there is not, and the disagreement has rather widened on the question of the right dates to be applied.
I can tell the Committee some of the difficulties of arriving at and applying a close season. There are three possibilities. You can have an overall close season on all land, with no exceptions. Nobody could possibly face up to that. In certain circumstances you must have exceptions, to protect the farmer. Then there is the possibility of scheduling certain areas as deer forests—a difficult operation, but not impossible—with a "free-for-all" outside where anybody can shoot. But it will be appreciated, of course, that if we do that the position is not necessarily improved so far as cruelty is concerned, nor do we eliminate the possibility of tenant farmers being very much tempted to make contracts with butchers and others who might supply the greyhound racing tracks all the year round. Therefore, it is by no means certain that we should be curing the cruelty aspect of this matter if we scheduled land as a deer 93 forest, and had outside an area over which anybody might kill deer. As I say, it might tempt tenant farmers to kill deer on a large scale, and to make contracts with the people who supply the greyhound racing tracks.
The best possibility, therefore, seemed to be to devise some machinery whereby we might use, let us say, the agricultural executive committees, to license certain farmers to shoot on their own holdings. But that would entail amending the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948. At the present moment that Act confines the right to kill deer to a tenant of an enclosed holding. It would mean that we should have to amend that Act to allow tenants to kill deer on the unenclosed part of the holding. In a county like Perthshire, the agricultural executive committee might have to license hundreds—it might even be thousands—of tenants to shoot. In those circumstances, again, we are up against the difficulty that there would be hundreds of tenants using rifles who ought not to be allowed to use them at all. Nobody would be very happy about that prospect. There would also be a very strong temptation to a number of tenants to shoot over their holdings in order to commercialise the business. The Committee will appreciate that these are very real difficulties if, as is absolutely necessary, we have to protect agricultural holdings.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has said that he does not insist on the actual wording of his Amendment. I am glad that that is so, because I think that a period of three months is obviously too short, and, from what I have said about the necessity of amending the 1948 Act in order to protect the tenant, I think it is perfectly clear that any regulation which the Secretary of State might make would be inoperative unless there were an amendment of the 1948 Act. Therefore, we are left with two alternatives.
In order to clear up this point, surely there is no technical difficulty in amending the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, is there? It can be done perfectly well here. By this Bill the Government are already amending one of the Scottish Acts—namely, the Game (Scotland) Act of 1832. There are no technical troubles there.
THE EARL OF HOME
As the noble Lord says, there are no technical troubles 94 in amending the 1948 Act. But when you amend it, and, as you would have to do, you give the agricultural executive committee the power to license, then you might get a condition in which they would have to license far too many tenant farmers for anybody's liking. No one feels very happy about that—the agricultural executive committees, the tenants, or the land owners. We have failed to get any agreement on that matter, but it is still the most profitable line of approach.
We seem, therefore, to be left with two possible alternatives. It would be possible to put into the Bill a general power by which the Secretary of State at some time could apply a close season if he thought fit. But that is a general power which neither House of Parliament ever likes very much. In fact we might get the position where a Secretary of State with anti-blood sport feelings would say that there had to be a close season all the year round. So we have to be a little careful before we put in any Amendment of that kind, because we should be legislating blindly. The second possibility is that we should set up a committee consisting of experts in this matter of deer management, plus representatives of the National Farmers' Union and the Forestry Commission and the other interested bodies, with instructions to report within a reasonable time, to recommend what the dates of a close season should be and the machinery for applying it. That the Secretary of State is willing to do straight away. And when the committee had reported the Government would treat this as a matter of urgency. That is a possibility which I should like noble Lords to think about now, or perhaps while other noble Lords are speaking.
I think the proposal has this advantage. Lord Morrison's Amendment proposes that the Secretary of State should have power to make certain regulations. Clearly, the Secretary of State would not make those regulations until he was pretty well satisfied that there was agreement among the people concerned, particularly the agricultural interests. Therefore, there would inevitably be a good deal of delay. In effect, he would be bound to wait until there was an opportunity to amend the 1948 Act. Anyhow, there is going to be some delay. 95 I still have a feeling that if the people who really understand this matter, selected, sensible people, could get together on a committee and could sit down and take their time about it, they would secure agreement, and would be able to make an agreed recommendation as to the framing of a Bill. Therefore, I do not think we should be losing anything by appointing a committee, with instructions to report within a reasonable time on the dates for a close season and the machinery for putting it into operation. That is what I should like noble Lords to agree to, if possible.
§ LORD MORRISON
The noble Earl used the expression "straight away" in regard to setting up a committee, and suggested that they should report as quickly as possible. Does he mean that the committee would be expected to report while this Bill is still going through its Parliamentary stages?
THE EARL OF HOME
As I said earlier, we should like this Bill now in order to deal with gang poaching next autumn. But whilst a committee could be appointed within a matter of weeks, I do not disguise from the noble Lord that I think it would take them some time to reach a decision. We could ask them to prepare a decision for the Secretary of State within six months, but I doubt whether, in fact, that could be done. There is this possibility of setting up a committee, and asking them to report. The only other plan would be to think again on this question and to give certain powers to the Secretary of State. But after the endless discussions that I have had in the last few weeks, I really do not think we shall get very much further in the next week or so on those lines. Perhaps we can hear what other noble Lords have to say, and then we can judge at the end of our discussion.
§ LORD TEVIOT
Not lately, but in the earlier part of my life, I spent many months stalking deer in the forests and, naturally, I have had a good deal of experience with regard to deer and their habits. When I put down my Amendment, I thought that if the Bill was going to be any good it must have a clause in it setting up a close season. But, having studied the question since, and having had a talk with my noble friend Lord Home, I find that the matter is really 96 bristling with difficulties. I should like to say a word to my noble friend Lord Morrison with regard to the question of shooting hinds which are in calf. For many years I used to shoot hinds during the hind shooting season—that is, at Christmas time and afterwards—and I can tell the noble Lord that you never shoot a hind in calf; you confine your shooting to barren hinds. If you are to keep your deer forest in good order, it is absolutely necessary to get rid of the barren hinds. They consume just as much food as the hinds and stags which you want to maintain, and it is the regular thing in all deer forests, as noble Lords who have already spoken have said, that the hind shooting in the proper season is confined entirely to the barren hinds. You have a stalker with you and your eye soon gets used to noting exactly whether a hind is barren or in calf.
I was greatly interested in the suggestion made by my noble friend, and I think that that may provide us with a way out of the difficulty. With regard to the discussion which may be held on this subject by the suggested committee, I am going to make a suggestion which I think may help. It occurred to me only to-day, and it is this. It is almost impossible to stop a farmer destroying deer when they are interfering with his crops, and, indeed, it would be wrong to stop him. After all, his livelihood depends on his crops being kept in order and being safely harvested. I have seen appalling trouble on holdings close to deer forests, particularly in certain parts of Perthshire and other parts of Scotland. In those places you get arable land right up to the edge of the deer forests. We might consider having a close season—and here again is a great difficulty—but either it must be a close season altogether or we shall have to make exceptions. That seems to me to be extremely difficult. We might say that the shooting of deer is not to be allowed on deer forests except within certain times. But we want to help the farmer to keep his crops unmolested by poaching deer.
I am wondering whether the problem can be solved along these lines: that provision should be made that within certain dates anyone shooting a deer of any sort, hind or stag, would, by order, have at once to notify the police or some other authority in the county that he has done so. If he failed to do so, I suggest 97 that he should be liable to a serious penalty. I am wondering whether that suggestion will help us to arrive at a scheme for having a close season, with the proviso that the farmer shall be allowed to protect his crops, but that, if he finds it necessary to shoot a deer in order to do so, he shall immediately acquaint an authority—an authority which, no doubt, can be determined. That is all I have to say on this question. Nearly all the other Amendments which I have down on the Marshalled List seem to me to be consequential on there being a close season of some kind—I except, of course, the one of which my noble friend Lord Home has just reminded me; that is, the Amendment to Clause 7 relating to constables. That I shall move later. But I hope that we shall be able to arrive at a satisfactory and agreed system of carrying out this important task.
§ 5.56 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
I wish to contribute only a word or two to the discussion at this point. We are all profoundly disappointed that the noble Earl has not been able to insert in this Bill a provision regarding a close season. Not only has every quarter of your Lordships' House pronounced in favour of it, as Lord Morrison has said, but there is, I know, widespread feeling all over the country that there should be provision in this Bill for a close season. And even the Government were in favour of it. If I say no more about this particular Amendment, I should like to record how grateful Scottish members of your Lordships' House are for the efforts which the Minister of State has made to find a solution to this problem. From the time of the Second Reading of the Bill until to-day, he has been trying to reconcile the conflicting interests in Scotland. He has been tireless in his efforts, and I think we owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
The task with which he has been faced has not been an easy one. It may have looked easy to start with, but when you get down to it you find that, as Lord Teviot has told us, it is bristling with difficulties. The noble Earl has not closed the door, and I think that the suggestion which he has made this afternoon is a good one. I hope that it will be possible to set up this Committee quickly and that it will report quickly. It is important that this Bill should go 98 through, and that it should be placed upon the Statute Book as speedily as possible. It is more important, I suppose, that that should happen than that the Bill should wait for the recommendation of a committee, which might take several months, though, as I have said, I think the suggestion is a very good one. I think that noble Lords who are interested in this Amendment about the close season will agree with that suggestion and accept it.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
Like other noble Lords who have already spoken, I must say that I am profoundly disappointed that agreement has not been reached on this matter. I should like to pay a similar tribute to that which has just been paid by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, to the Minister in charge of the Bill, because I know how hard he has tried to reach an agreement. The question which really has been raised is how far Parliament should have to get agreement among all the bodies concerned before legislating. I must say that if there have to be meetings with all the various associations and organisations such as the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the Landowners' Organisation—and, indeed, we might even have to bring into the conference an association of black-faced poachers, or, should I say, black-market poachers—then I feel that it is reducing legislation to a farce.
I was disappointed to hear the Minister propose that the Bill should go through as it is and that a committee should be set up, because I think your Lordships will agree that the setting up of a committee is opening a means to killing the incentive behind the demand for the close season. I do not know whether the Committee stage of this Bill could be postponed until a few weeks after Easter, so that we might know whether a committee had been set up and who were the members of the committee before we expressed a definite opinion on whether this Amendment for a close season should be pressed to a Division or not. On Second Reading the opinion of your Lordships on the need for a close season was unanimous. I have seldom seen such unanimity on all sides of the House. This is entirely a non-political question 99 and it is supported by noble Lords on the Opposition and Liberal Benches, as well as by those on the Government Benches. I feel it would be unfortunate for the reputation of Parliament if the wishes of this House were to be set aside because a number of people of different interests could not be made to agree. I hope that the Committee stage can be postponed until after Easter, for the House to see what can be done—in other words, to give the noble Earl a chance to do something about a close season before we are asked to decide.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but the question of deer is an interesting one in these days of meat shortage. In the old days, stags and hinds poaching on farmers' crops were regarded as vermin. Now venison is regarded as a considerable source of meat supply for the country. I have tried to work out the value of venison produced in Scotland every year at present prices, and I calculate that that value is somewhere between £200,000 and £250,000. That is a large amount. In addition, Scotland wants all the financial help it can get from people from the United States and other countries who come to Scotland to shoot stags, and it is essential that this industry—for it is an industry—should be preserved. Noble Lords will agree that if stags and hinds are allowed to be shot at all times of the year, even by those legally entitled to shoot them, there is an enormous wastage of meat. A stag shot in February is nothing but skin and bone and almost worthless, while a stag shot in September may be worth £25. I consider that this is a serious matter from the point of view of meat supply, and a close season applies just as much to those legally entitled to shoot deer as to poachers.
I hope the noble Earl will again go into this question and that the Committee stage of the Bill will be held up until after Easter, so that, when the noble Earl has again replied to us, we can consider the position. I believe that if there is no Amendment on Committee stage, there is no Report stage. I had hoped the noble Earl would accept my Amendment to increase the fine from twenty pounds to thirty pounds, if for no other reason than to keep the Report stage open, but unfortunately he has not done so. I will defer my views to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, who has the first Amendment 100 on this matter on the Order Paper, and perhaps, having heard the debate, he will be able to decide whether he will press his Amendment.
§ 6.5 p.m.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Morrison will not make a decision yet on this matter, because I think there is something to be said arising out of what we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Home, and the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, if we agree to the appointment of the proposed committee. I know that the suggestion is put forward by the Government with the best intentions but that will kill the possibility of having a similar Amendment moved in another place. If we let this Bill go through without a close season, the feeling against killing stags in certain seasons of the year is so strong, on humanitarian grounds alone, that the other place will probably insist on an Amendment. We have here one of those rare cases when the two main Parties, and I believe, the Liberals, are all in agreement.
I know that it is not the intention of the noble Earl, Lord Home, to block any possibility of the Bill being amended in another place if we agree to the setting up of this committee. With regard to the committee itself, I wish to say, with the greatest respect and with no reflection OD the people proposed, that they are all professional people—representatives of the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association, the Forestry Commission and other bodies. If the House agrees to this committee idea, I hope that it will have a few people who are interested in the humanitarian aspect of this question. I do not see why we should not have one or two representatives who are entirely independent people representing the humanitarian side of this great question, and I do not see why we should not have a representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a very reputable body. I think that would appeal to the general public on both sides of the Border.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, made a good suggestion that it might be made obligatory to report the killing of deer. There seems to be no difficulty about that. In the case of certain salmon rivers, people are bound under the bylaws to report all fish taken. I have another suggestion, though I do not know 101 whether it is practicable. I have discussed it briefly with my noble friend Lord Morrison. If we have a close season, and I believe that it will eventually come, I wonder whether we could amend the game licence to include deer as game. It is suggested that there are red deer only in Scotland. That is not strictly true. There is a prolific red deer forest in the Lake District of England, so that this would apply to the whole country. This suggestion, if carried out, would provide an additional check, and also a check on licensed game dealers, who come under the same licence. I think that idea is worth looking into.
With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, said, about postponing the Committee stage of the Bill, of course, the Government are anxious to get this Bill through to stop gang poaching before autumn. We have a Third Reading stage and, if there is no compromise, perhaps we could then press the matter. I think it would be a pity for us to divide to-night. I know of one or two noble Lords interested in this matter who understood that an agreement had been reached that we should not divide this evening. If we postpone a Division on this matter—which I think we can—until Third Reading, we can whip those who would like to be here when the Division takes place. This is only a matter of Parliamentary procedure. I understood that there would not be a Division to-night, and probably many other noble Lords would be taken by surprise if there were. We could bring this matter up again on Third Reading and, in view of the support in the Committee, I think we could get something substantial done.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
The lack of progress is most unfortunate, especially if it is correct that the problem could be settled amicably in the majority of the Highlands, and that the trouble exists only in a small part of one county. I do not like to take sides between the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association and the proprietors of deer forests, because the proprietors are represented here and the farmers are not. I feel that if the farmers' representatives could agree upon the proposals that have been brought forward that would substantially meet the position in which they find themselves at the present time. It seems that complete agreement may not 102 be possible. If that is so, is it not justifiable to suggest that within the Bill representatives of the sheep breeders and of the proprietors of deer forests should come together, and should be more trustful and work out their difficulties between themselves? I feel that the National Farmers' Union and the Landowners' Federation could do something to bring about agreement and help their members to carry out the Act as Parliament wishes.
I should like to join with other noble Lords who have spoken in saying how much the efforts of the noble Earl, Lord Home, in trying to get something done, are appreciated. I did not have the privilege of participating in the debate the other day, although if I had done so I should have made the same suggestions that were made from all sides of your Lordships' House. As the matter seemed to be so clearly understood, one hoped that the noble Earl, Lord Home, would be successful. He has tried hard, but he has not been successful. It will certainly be a disaster to the ambit of the whole Bill if something of this kind cannot be done. I hope that the suggestion made by the noble Duke who has just spoken will be given consideration. There is one other point I should like to mention, and on which perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Home, could say something. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, referred to the value of venison in terms of £250,000 a year. A great deal has been said as to the damage done by deer to agriculture. No doubt a survey has been made. I should like to ask what is the amount of damage done, and to what extent the national food situation is affected. Can the noble Earl say something as to the amount of damage done by deer, as opposed to making the general statement that damage has been done?
§ LORD MORRISON
At this late hour I propose to say only a few words. This is not in any sense a Party matter. I am old enough to know the evil consequences of trying to force legislation on people who are not ready for it. If I accept the noble Earl's suggestion—and I thank him for the trouble he has taken in this matter—I do so in the hope that the suggestion he has made will go some way towards finding a solution. In saying that, I feel sure that I am expressing the opinion of all noble Lords in this Chamber. At the worst, it will provide another opportunity 103 of trying to reach a successful solution. This seems to me to be something worth making a sacrifice for. While some of us are somewhat impatient and would have liked to see a close season provided for in the Bill, at the same time it will be better for the future working of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, if it can be done with the consent of those concerned. In those circumstances, I think I am sensing the opinion of the Committee in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.
The noble Lord said that he proposed to withdraw, and the noble Earl, Lord Home, was on his feet.
§ LORD MORRISON
I am quite willing to withhold my withdrawal of the Amendment until the Minister says what he wants to say.
THE EARL OF HOME
I do not want to put the Opposition into a difficulty here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, for his offer to withdraw the Amendment. I believe that the final solution to this will probably be the setting up of a committee to inquire into these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, raised a point which I should like to consider. He said that if we accept this proposal for a committee it will prevent any Amendments for a close season being moved in the other place.
It will not prevent it from the Parliamentary point of view, but it will arm the Secretary of State for Scotland, or whoever the Minister may be in the other place, with such powers that he will be able to say: "The other place agreed to this committee. Let us wait for the committee to report." He would hamstring the people who wanted to press an Amendment.
THE EARL OF HOME
If your Lordships will agree, I will make one more attempt to reach an agreement. Perhaps we can adjourn this Committee stage until shortly after Easter. We will make one more attempt to see whether we can get an Amendment into this Bill, although I am bound to say to your Lordships, here and now, that I am very doubtful whether we shall succeed. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said on the Second Reading (OFFICIAL REPORT; Vol. 175, Col. 724):In my opinion, to impose a close season without the co-operation of the principal bodies concerned would, in the Highlands of Scotland of all places, make the administration of the Bill when it becomes an Act almost a dead letter.It would be very much better if we could get an agreed Amendment inserted in the Bill, although I do not think the chances are very great.
§ LORD MORRISON
Does the noble Earl suggest that I leave my Amendment on the Paper if the Committee stage is postponed?
THE EARL OF HOME
I think perhaps we could adjourn the debate on Lord Morrison's Amendment, and resume this discussion shortly after Easter, without sacrificing time or prejudicing the chances of getting, the Bill through the other place. I shall then be in a position to advise your Lordships whether or not it is possible to get agreement.
With great respect, I think it would be better if we adjourned the Committee, which I thought was the noble Earl's original suggestion. All the Amendments on the Paper are from private members. There are no Government Amendments.
THE EARL OF HOME
That is my suggestion, that we should adjourn the Committee stage on Lord Morrison's Amendment now. I beg to move that we adjourn the Committee stage.
§ Moved, That the Committee stage be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Home.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and Committee adjourned accordingly.
§ House resumed.