HL Deb 13 March 1952 vol 175 cc720-45

4.10 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will feel that the introduction of this Bill is timely and meets a real need. Its objects are two: first, to strengthen the law against deer poaching, and secondly, to prevent the appalling cruelty which is attendant upon the methods of modern gang poaching. So far as the law is concerned, this Bill is necessary because the only mention of red deer in any previous legislation is in the Game (Scotland) Act, 1832, under which an individual is liable to a fine of £2 if he trespasses by day in pursuit of deer, and the Game Certificates Act, 1860, which provides for a fine of £20 if he kills deer without a licence. But in these Acts there is no provision for the right of search or for the forfeiture of weapons and vehicles, which is necessary when dealing with modern poachers.

So far as the cruelty aspect is concerned, noble Lords who live in the Highlands have first-hand knowledge of this. In case some of your Lordships do not appreciate what the methods of modern poachers mean, I would say that the poaching of deer is carried out largely by gangs who come out by car and lorry from the large towns, many miles away from the deer forests. They carry out their operations mostly in the winter and spring, when the deer are out of condition and venison is of little use for human consumption. They do a great deal of their poaching by night. When the weather is hard the deer come down to the lower ground, often close to the road. The poachers switch a bright headlight on them, dazzling them, and then shoot at them with rifles or automatic weapons. The dead deer are collected and put in the lorry, while the wounded and maimed are allowed to straggle away over the hills. I think your Lordships will agree that that practice, by every standard of sportsmanship, humanity and decency, is revolting, and this Bill seeks to strike at the people who do that kind of thing in order to make money at a time when meat is it short supply.

Clause 1 of the Bill makes it a basic offence to kill deer without authority. A maximum penalty of £20 is laid down. Clause 2 prohibits the killing of deer with any repeating firearm. That provision, as I explained, is necessary in these days when gang poachers use automatic weapons. Clause 2 also makes it an offence to kill deer by night. For both these offences the fines are stepped up substantially—£20 for a first offence on summary conviction, but a fine of £100 or two years' imprisonment, or both, on conviction on indictment. Clause 3 is designed to prevent poaching by organised gangs. Your Lordships may wonder why a gang is defined, in effect, as two persons or more. The answer is that although six or eight men might came out in a gang, they often split themselves into pairs, and unless, we name two or more as constituting a gang it may be that they will "get away with it." There is a precedent for this, as this was the definition of a gang in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) Act which was passed in the last Session of the last Parliament. I need not take your Lordships through the Bill in detail. Clauses 4 and 5 are consequential. Clause 6 is important in that it protects crofters and farmers if they should be compelled to kill deer invading their land and if they are protected under the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948.

There are two apparent weaknesses in the Bill to which attention has been called in the Press and in other places. The first concerns the powers of arrest which, as your Lordships will notice, are given only to policemen, whereas under the Salmon Act powers of arrest were given to water bailiffs who are the servants of district boards. I argued the case the critics are now making in another place when the Salmon Bill was going through, and I am bound to say If have a good deal of sympathy with them. The areas of the Highlands in which poaching takes place are widespread and the policemen are very thin on the ground. Nevertheless, the legal experts I have consulted have convinced me that it is right and proper in this case to give power of arrest to policemen only, and that it should not be given to stalkers who are the servants of private individuals. In this case there is the additional reason that we are dealing with poachers who are inevitably carrying firearms, and there is a real danger of risk to life to those who might intervene without police authority. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that there will be the closest co-operation between police and stalkers in this matter of the apprehension of poachers.

The second possible weakness which has been brought to the attention of the Government is that we should have taken the opportunity of this Bill to include a close season for deer. At this stage, in the few remarks I am making in opening the discussion on the Bill, 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. I shall be very glad to hear the suggestions which noble Lords make this afternoon and will say nothing more now than that if a close season is to be given, the Government must be satisfied that the conditions attached to it will not have any adverse effect on the agricultural interests involved. If we can get agreement which safeguards agricultural interests, then we shall be prepared to put it in the Bill at a later stage.

May I now say a word about the timetable? It looks as if we should take the Committee stage somewhere about the second week of April, so if there is to be an amendment it will be necessary to make it by then. If we have to put into this Bill a clause providing for a close season, it will, mean altering the long title of the Bill. I think your Lordships know that unless we can do that here, and should the Bill reach another place without it, it would then need to be recommitted, which would mean a loss of time on the Parliamentary timetable that would be fatal to the whole Bill. We should then lose this Bill, which should be extremely valuable in dealing with the depredations of deer poachers. With that short introduction, I shall be glad to hear your Lordships' observations on the Bill, and we shall be most sympathetic to any suggestion that your Lordships may make for its improvement. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure all your Lordships are indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Home, for the concise way in which he has explained this Bill. As is evident to those of us who are interested in this subject, the Bill follows closely the Salmon Protection Act to which the noble Earl referred, and the remedies that are proposed in this Bill are of a somewhat similar character. The Salmon Protection Act was mainly directed, however, not against a man who poached a salmon as an extra for his own table, but against gang poaching by explosives and even poison. The noble Earl has just referred to the fact (I was not aware of it) that two persons may be a gang. I can hardly conceive of any single person poaching deer unless he has considerable physical strength. I should be glad if the noble Earl could tell us, if he is going to reply—and if he does not reply, perhaps he will let me know privately, for my own interest—something about the effect of the Salmon Protection Act up to now. Those of us who took an interest in passing that Bill through your Lordships' House would like to know if the Act is succeeding, and whether the gangs are being broken up.

Where I feel this Bill is weak is in the assumption that the problem of deer poaching is the same as that of salmon poaching. There is a considerable difference. It is true, as the noble Earl has said, that this Bill provides for heavy fines and imprisonment on gang poachers, and stipulates—I think this was original in the Salmon Protection Act—not only fines or imprisonment, but fines and imprisonment. But in an area where the nearest policeman may be forty miles away, and only he has power to arrest, as the noble Earl indicated, convictions will not be easy to obtain. We have all heard of the gang in a car, van or lorry, dazzling the deer in the glare of the headlights and then spraying them with bullets from tommy guns, and even using tracer bullets. But, in all fairness, I must say that I took a good deal of trouble to find out about these happenings, and even consulted the chief constables in the Highlands of Scotland, and I was never convinced that this was anything more than a somewhat exceptional happening. In any case, as the noble Earl has indicated, it is horrible and detestable, and I hope that this Bill will help to stop it.

Here I should like to return to my main point. It seems to me that the real weakness of this Bill is that, even when it becomes an Act, the legal slaughter of deer can still go on for 365 days a year. In winter, when snow forces the deer down from the hills to seek food, men will be able to shoot them down and dispose of the venison at high prices. That seems to me to be the real trouble. What used to be an attractive sport for the aristocracy is in process of being contaminated by sordid commercialism. The successful butcher becomes the owner of a deer forest, or obtains the shooting rights, and invites his friends from the south to share the fun of killing half starved deer, driven from the hills to seek food. This makes good business for him and, in the noble Earl's words, "quick money." It is perfectly legal. And so we read of a lorry containing the carcases of thirty-seven hinds going the round of the butchers' shops in Inverness. That incident—and it has been repeated—could not have had anything to do with the gangs, because I feel that the gangs would probably have been much more careful in disposing of their ill-gotten gains, and would not have gone from one butcher's shop to another in Inverness. If I might, with your Lordships' permission, slightly amend Goldsmith's lines a little, I would say: Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where butchers prosper, and sportsmen decay. Therefore, I regret the fact that the Minister has been unable to include the most urgent need—namely, a close season.

I am not surprised; I do not blame the Minister, or the Government. 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 administration of the Bill when it becomes an Act almost a dead letter. The noble Earl did not name the bodies who are unable to agree, but I think I could name some of them: the Scottish Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society, the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association, and, of course, the agricultural executive committees in deer forest areas. I hope nobody will infer that I am suggesting that any of these organisations wish to obstruct the Government in remedying abuses now going on. But there it is: if they are unable to find accommodation amongst themselves, and this Bill has to go on the Statute Book without a clause imposing a close season for killing deer, in my humble opinion it will have accomplished little. What I should like to see, in. support of the statement the noble Earl made, is a strong appeal coaling from members of all Parties in this House, asking the leaders of these organisations to make further and urgent effort to reach agreement in support of a close season before this Bill is finally dealt with in this House. As the noble Earl has said, once it leaves this House it will be impossible, even in the other place, to insert a new clause without a great deal of trouble, because it will alter the title of the Bill. If that appeal from your Lordships' House should evoke a friendly response, I am sure we should all look forward to the further strips of the Bill, satisfied that 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.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I feel that this Bill, in principle at any rate, will be welcomed in all quarters of your Lordships' House, because we all take an interest in the wild life of our country and none of us wants to see cruelty to our wild animals. I should like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Earl who introduced this Bill, first on the manner in which he introduced it, and, secondly, on being so prompt in introducing it. If your Lordships remember, it was only late in the summer that the Scott Henderson Report was published, and I think they have acted with commendable promptitude.

In what I am about to say, I incur the risk of being charged with repetition, but when there are important points in a Bill I feel that they will bear repetition. It is the two weaknesses in the Bill to which the noble Earl himself referred in introducing it to which I wish to refer. First of all, as the Bill is drafted the power of search and apprehension is confined to constables only, whereas in the Salmon Protection Act the power is also vested in water bailiffs, appointed by the water board, and in persons specially appointed by the Secretary of State as constables. Of course, the area of these desolate tracks in the Highlands are too vast for constables to cover, and it is very difficult to understand how this law is to be enforced if the power of search and arrest is confined to constables. It will also be extremely difficult for an owner or occupier to turn off his land a trespasser who is poaching. The noble Lord knows as well as I do the laws of trespass in Scotland. You can use violence in preventing a man entering on to your land, but if you use violence in trying to turn him a once he is there, you are guilty of assault. It is a very peculiar position. How can an owner or occupier always be going about with a policeman alongside him?

I have one suggestion, if I may be so bold as to make it. I know of the difficulties in giving powers of search to private individuals: it is not a popular thing, and it is probably quite wrong to do it. But why could we not appoint statutory boards—deer boards—just the same as we have statutory fishery boards concerned with the rivers? These deer boards would employ stalkers or gamekeepers, just as the water boards employ water bailiffs. It seems to me that if this deer problem is as important as it is made out to be—and evidently it is a very important problem, or we should not be debating it in your Lordships' House this afternoon—then that is a possibility. Perhaps the noble Earl will consider that. Deer foresters might say: "We cannot afford it. We shall be assessed more highly and have to pay their wages." But there is the other way of looking at the matter: the extra cost might be offset by their having to employ, say, one stalker less. I believe that, previous to the passing of the Constables Act of 1875, justices of the peace were empowered to appoint gamekeepers as special constables. There used to be objections to this practice. It was argued that these special constables did not come under the authority of the chief constable of the county. I do not know whether or not that objection is still valid. I should have thought that when the special constables were on duty they might technically be brought under the control of the chief constable of the county.

Now I must refer to what the noble Earl described as the second weakness in this Bill and which is, to my mind, a very serious omission. That, of course, is the question of the absence of any provision for a close season. 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. I believe that it was the one chance. Perhaps there still is a chance, as I hope there may be. Why do we ask for a close season? Chiefly, of course, on the score of cruelty. 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.

Some of your Lordships may remember that this question was debated at the end of the last summer Session. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, told the House how hard it is now in the Highlands to let these deer forests to anyone except the butchers. These men shoot deer when the meat is required, irrespective of what the season is, and irrespective of what condition the beasts may be in. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said, they rent the forests simply to make what profit they can. They bare the forest of beasts and then they move on somewhere else, to do the same thing there. Deer slaughter for profit, which goes on throughout the year, will threaten the very existence of our indigenous wild deer in Scotland. These men who shoot deer will be quite immune from the law if this Bill goes through as drafted at the present time. The only certain means of protecting deer and preserving our natural herds of wild deer is by making provision for a close season. I cannot believe that the Government, even at the last moment, will turn a deaf ear to what the Scott Henderson Committee emphatically recommended. We are the only civilised country without a close season, and now is the opportunity to remove this stigma once and for all.

The Government are concerned, and quite naturally, with the question of the agricultural interests, and they want the concurrence of these interests before introducing such a clause into this Bill. That is understandable. But the National Farmers' Union have been agreeable from the very beginning. I think the noble Lord was mistaken in saying that the National Farmers' Union had opposed a close season.


The organisations which I quoted were those consulted by the Government. I am glad the noble Earl has mentioned this matter, because I should not like it to be thought for one moment that these organisations were against it.


The noble Lord is right. The National Farmers' Union have not opposed the Bill themselves; it is one of their affiliated societies, the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association, who have opposed the Bill from the beginning. What they ask for is more expeditious procedure to deal with these marauding deer which come down on to the unenclosed ground seeking food in cold weather when the snow is on the ground, and of course they do a great deal of damage. At present, they can be removed only under a very cumbersome procedure provided for in the Agriculture (Scotland) Act of 1948. If, for example, a full meeting of the agricultural executive committee is required, it may take a week to get a decision on whether deer should be removed or not. Nothing could ever prevent deer doing damage, except the total elimination of deer. This point is recognised by the provision for deer damage compensation in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1949.

What does the expedited procedure mean? Simply indiscriminate shooting by inexperienced persons, causing more cruelty and entirely defeating the recommendations of the Scott Henderson Committee. An aggrieved occupier could collect every Tom, Dick and Harry he could find in a hurry to shoot these deer and there would be just as much cruelty as ever. Although this a Bill primarily to deal with poaching, it originated from the Report of the Scott Henderson Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals: but for that Report, we should not have had the Bill. The close season as recommended it that Report should be an integral part of this Bill. Without it the Bill is incomplete. It cannot be wholly effective in its purpose. Without it cruelty will continue, and the measures which the Government are adopting will prove to the only half measures. I ask the Government to reconsider this matter, and to add the necessary clause to the Bill. With that proviso, I must say that I like the Bill and desire to see it work. I hope your Lordships will give it a second Reading this afternoon.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to pay a tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Home, because on January 31 I happened to mention what I called "that political animal" the red deer; and I suggested that a Bill of this kind might be introduced. When I made that suggestion I had no idea that this Bill was on the stocks, as before that date I had been abroad. It appears that the Bill was, in fact on the stocks. We have the Bill before us to-day, and I congratulate the noble Earl and the Scottish Office on their speed in dealing with the matter. We have seen another example of speed this afternoon in the passing through all its stages of the Agriculture (Fertilisers) Bill, and I hope that this will have, if not an equally speedy passage, at least a very speedy passage. The deer has been a political animal for a very long time; and it is refreshing to come to this House and to hear on all sides common-sense speeches on this Bill. The deer is not just an animal which is shot by the proprietor of a deer forest, and this Bill is certainly not a "Landlords' Protection Bill." It is a Bill for the protection of red deer. I think it is true to say that venison now forms a very considerable proportion of the food production in the Highlands.

I have heard it said that before the war 10,000 stags were killed annually, and also a considerable number of hinds—probably about the same number. During the war, deer stocks were reduced, but the value of each carcase has enormously increased. I remember that in the years 1932, 1933 and 1934, I was selling rather miserable lambs for 2s. 6d., which is less than one now gets for a rabbit. I remember the time when stags were 25s. a carcase. A good average stag to-day may fetch as much as 2s. 6d. per lb., and a 12-stone stag, which is a very small one, may fetch £15. A 20-stone stag (weighed with liver left in) should fetch £25. In this connection I must say that I do not think a maximum fine of £20 as proposed by the Bill, is enough for a first offence. I think the fine ought to be raised. I can well imagine anyone who has taken an 18-stone stag saying to himself that it is worth while, since he may make a profit of £2 10s. on the stag. I was interested to hear that in the Act of 1932 the fine was £20. Unfortunately, in 1952 the pound is worth a good deal less than it was in 1932, and therefore for reasons of inflationary tendencies alone I hope the noble Earl will see fit to increase the maximum fine.

With regard to apprehension, I have already come to the same conclusion as other noble Lords, and I suggest that to confine this power of apprehension to constables is fantastic. On my own property on the west coast we see a constable only when someone commits a crime—and that, I am glad to say, is not often. My own estate comprises forty miles of sea coast; and on the north side of the property which is bounded by Loch Hourn (one of he most inaccessible parts of the Highlands) I suppose that for years at a time no one sees a constable. It is ridiculous to think that the efforts of the overworked policemen in the Highlands could possibly have any effect on deer poaching. I suggest that the stalker or the gamekeeper should have the power of arrest, and that we should have not air raid wardens but "stock wardens." Incidentally, a good many sheep also are poached. They are shot by poachers from boats, and otherwise. I understand that the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association opposed the close season, and I think that one day they may regret that decision; for they may find that they want a close season for sheep lasting the whole year! If it were possible, it might be a good idea to have these "stock wardens" and for them to have a licence to act in the same way as policemen.

For stags the close season varies in different parts of Scotland. In some parts, for instance, rather farther east than my estate, stags probably go out of condition on about October 10, or even earlier. On the other hand, on the West Coast we always shoot stags until October 15. Although I am afraid I cannot shoot very many stags now, having strained my heart, I have shot as many as a hundred in a year, and I have shot them, especially young, bad stags with bad heads, up to October 20, because they are still then in condition. Therefore it is rather difficult to have an absolutely agreed close season for all parts of Scotland, but I should like to suggest that the close season should run from July 20 to October 20 for stags, and from October 20 to January 20 for hinds: in other words, a close season of six months. There would thus be a close season of six months and an open season of six months. I also suggest that there must be some way of getting round the objections of the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association. Surely, if damage were being done, nobody would say that that damage should continue to be done, even though it might be inside the close season. I should have thought that, with the consent of the owner and the occupier of the land and the agricultural executive committee, deer might be shot inside the close season. I should have thought that agreement could be come to on lines of that kind.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, talk about the occupiers of a deer forest shooting stags on any day of the year. As a matter of fact, I know of an instance a few years ago when the lessee of a deer forest which is quite well known to me shot thirty or thirty-five stags in February, when they were absolutely out of condition in the snow. This lessee was connected with one of these sausage businesses, or something of that kind. Although the stags were certainly no good for ordinary meat, no doubt they found their way into those attractive sausages which we had during the war—and indeed are still having. They were good enough for sausages, and I should think that the sausages that we have now are all made of stags shot in February. Consequently, I think it is essential to have a close season applied to the owner or occupier, just as much as to the poacher. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pay attention to what various noble Lords say on that subject.

I mentioned the question of poaching by sea. I may be very stupid, but I do not quite understand Clause 7 in Part II of the Bill, which says: (1) A constable may on any land seize any deer, firearm or ammunition, vehicle or boat liable to be forfeited. I know that later on it may say something more about boats, but it seems rather odd to be able to seize a boat on the land, particularly round the West Coast, where they usually have boats on the sea. That wording may have to be amended slightly when we reach the Committee stage. I suggest that particularly on the West Coast more use might be made of fast boats which constables or stock wardens might use. I find that there is a great boat called the "Minna" in which the Secretary of State for Scotland sometimes goes on tour round the West Coast. That is called the Scottish Fisheries cruiser, but it does not look very much like a cruiser because it goes very slowly. Therefore, it is not likely to catch many poachers or sheep stealers. There should be some fast boats on the West Coast which could catch up and search drifters and other boats which the constable suspects may contain deer.

I have not much more to say, but there is one point that occurs right at the end of the Bill, where it says in Clause 13 (2): This Act shall extend to Scotland only. The fact is perhaps not known by a great many people, but there are deer forests in the Lake District. There is one very interesting one called "Martindale," belonging to a Major Hazell. If this Act applies only to Scotland, I am afraid that we shall find poachers doing what was done with the Coronation Stone some time ago—taking the deer from England to Scotland or, on the other hand, poaching deer in Scotland and saying that they came from England. I should like the noble Earl to consider whether it is possible—I do not know whether it is, constitutionally—to apply this Act to England as well. I hope that it will not always be an excuse that deer have been poached in England and have found their way to Scotland.

There is one further point. In Country Life this week there is an article by Mr. Kenneth Whitehead, who is an authority on deer. There is a picture of a deer in Germany which is marked with a tab in its ear, and he suggests that deer from certain forests should be marked with tabs bearing the name of the forest. He suggests that that would be a way of preventing the illicit sale of deer at all events. That is not really a highly practicable proposal. The stag or the hind is usually skinned when it comes down from the hill, and is probably sent away wrapped up in canvas, so it will not have an ear to which to fix a tab. I think there might be some way of marking carcases, as they mark beef carcases in markets, with their origin showing that they are in fact legally killed.

The last point I wish to make about the close season is that, from the food point of view, it would give venison to the public in better condition. We have heard this afternoon how hinds are taken to Inverness in February or March when they are in calf and in bad condition. It is a fact that venison in bad condition, in what should be the close season, is really very bad meat. It gets extremely thin in the winter and if, as I believe to be the case, we want all the meat we can get at present, all the good meat, it is a great advantage to have deer shot in the right season and not in the wrong season, apart altogether from the fact that it may go into sausages. There is a great waste in the volume of meat by shooting in the wrong season.

Your Lordships will be glad to hear that that is all I have to say. I want to emphasise everything that the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, and other noble Lords have said bout the close season, and also particularly about this question of the arrest or apprehension of people by policemen only. I am afraid that unless we have a close season, and unless we have people other than policemen authorised to apprehend poachers, the Bill will not be the success which I am sure we all hope it will be.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is customary, when addressing your Lordships' House, to aver or disclaim any vested interest in the matter which is before your Lordships. I should therefore like to say that for many years I owned a number of deer forests, one of them the famous Black Mount. I have since sold them and, except for stalking interests on a certain area which I am not likely to exercise, and for being hereditary Keeper of the Ancient Royal Forest of Mamlorn, it does not concern me personally whether or not this Bill becomes an Act. I say that, not in the spirit of the well-to-do stockbroker who, when bemoaning the hard times in which we live, remarked that he was "down to his last yacht," but simply to show that I have no vested interest.

Having said that, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Home, who is in charge of the Bill, and to welcome it with both hands. There is a great deal of promiscuous slaughtering of deer going on in Scotland now and it is high time that a Bill of this sort was passed. It also carries the consent of the Land and Property Federation and the British Field Sports Society in England. There are, however, two important omissions. One is the fact that the right of apprehension is confined to a regular police constable, and the second the absence of a close season. Before I deal with the question of apprehension, I should like to say that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, say that deer stalking was simply a sport of the rich aristocracy. I do not know that the aristocracy are rich. Anyhow, if I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, that is quite wrong. One shoots deer partly for the pleasure of being out in the conditions which stalking provides, but more from the point of view of keeping down deer for the assistance of farmers; otherwise deer would increase all over the country, as they used to do. They were there long before the sheep. The second reason is that if you want your forest to be in good order you must shoot the rubbish and the backward beasts. It is a great pity that, owing to the commercialisation of so many deer forests, instead of shooting the bad beasts, people see what turns out to be a "royal" and say, "There is a 'royal'; let us have a shot at it."

While welcoming the Bill, I can only repeal what noble Lords before me have said—namely, that there are two serious omissions. The first is that the apprehension of a poacher is confined to the regular police. As I know, deer forests are in isolated districts—they should be in such districts or else they should not exist at all. I can think of many glens where the deer congregate in a corrie at the top end, and it would be fifteen miles or more down to the nearest police constable. A stalker earns his pay for looking after the deer forest. What is he to do when he sees a poacher? Is he to say to the poacher, "Will you excuse me a moment? I have got to go down and find a police constable. It will take me anything up to three hours, even if he is at home when I get there. I will hurry back and will keep you as short a time as possible; but it will probably be five hours until I get back. Will you be good enough to wait for me?" I very much doubt whether many poachers would. I cannot help thinking that something could be done on the lines that have already been suggested, to give recognised stalkers and gamekeepers the power of apprehension of a man caught in the act of poaching. They can be on a list approved by the chief constable. That is a matter which can be threshed out in Committee. I would ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill to explain to me, if this power of apprehension is confined to police constables who are so thin on the ground, how he proposes to give any effect to this Bill at all. It seems to me that it will make pure nonsense of it.

The second omission, which has already been referred to, concerns the absence of a close season. My Lords, that is clamantly needed. It was recommended by the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, and I simply cannot understand why there is no close season for the red deer, which, as The Times states in its leader column this morning, does not even get the protection in the breeding season that one gives to the peewit and the snipe. Of course, there ought to be peace and rest for deer during the breeding season. It is so extraordinary that I was at some pains to try and find out the reason for the omission. I am told that it is the black-faced sheep farmers who object to the close season, or are using it as a bargaining counter to enable them to reduce the deer which have spread down to low ground. But I suggest that that is mixing up two separate things. If a stag becomes a raider, he acquires a taste for turnips and he comes down, leaving the grazing on the high ground. Like a man-eating tiger, or a fox that has taken to stealing chickens, he should be done away with as humanely and as quickly as possible, because he is a source of mischief. In fairness to the farmers some solution must be adopted if deer do spread on to ground which should not be a deer forest at all. But that is no argument for not having a close season.

Regularly after the first heavy snowfall in the winter, I used to see a headline in the papers that deer were raiding the farmers' crops. I used to make a point of going round to see where those crops were being raided. What crops are there to raid in January? Even in Scotland the corn is either in or done for by that time. The turnips are raised. The potatoes are in, or they never will be. The ground is bone hard, so what crops are the deer raiding? I found, in practice, that it was just one more stick with which to beat the proprietor—as if there were not enough already!Another reason put forward is that up to 1939 there was no legal close season for deer because, for some extraordinary reason, deer are treated in law as vermin. In practice, of course, there was a close season. Deer stalking has always been associated with the most rigid etiquette. I remember that it was drummed into me at a very early age that you should never leave a wounded stag, and on most forests there used to be dogs trained to trail the wounded beast and it was incumbent upon you, however exhausted and tired you might feel, to go on until you put an end to the beast, instead of leaving it on the ground to die of exhaustion. People talk of shooting stag. This afternoon in your Lordships' House people have talked about shooting deer, as though it were just a matter of saying "There is a deer, now we shoot it." I assure noble Lords that it is very hard work. For poachers to do it with one eye over their shoulder to see whether a policeman or, if my suggestion is accepted, a stalker was coming behind them, would simply lead to indiscriminate cruelty.

The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, recommended that there should be a deer Committee. I disagree with the noble earl about that. I do not want to keep your Lordships too long, but I had an experience during the war when the agricultural executive committee decided to reduce the number of deer. Without a word to me they had a deer drive over my land. The result was that for weeks afterwards, there were wounded deer crawling down to the low ground. I remember one that was shot in the jaw and I should not think it could have eaten a mouthful for the last ten days. That was done by the agricultural executive committee, who recruited a number of men to drive the deer across the open ground. They were spaced about a quarter of a mile apart (in practice rather more), to drive them to the steep ground, where they were to shoot them and then take them down the steep side of the hill to lorries that were waiting to carry them off. That is all very fine on paper; it is the sort of scheme which would have been hatched in an office. But, of course, the deer is a very mobile animal, and men are not so mobile. What happened was that the deer periodically broke through the gap, and the beaters, who were absolutely fed up, as I know personally, took a sort of potshot at a deer coming back, and if they did not kill him he was left to die on the ground. Instead of having more official bodies and more forms to fill in, I think it would be better to leave it to the deer forest owners, and make it plain to them that they must either reduce their deer where they are doing damage or have the matter taken out of their hands. I am anxious not to repeat what has already been said, but shooting now is on a commercial basis. The fact is that a body of men who want to make money can rent or buy stalking, put themselves on the right side of the law and go on shooting right through the winter. I remember talking to Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel and Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss, both experienced stalkers and forest owners, and both were in favour of stopping shooting and stalking, as the noble Lord, Lord Brocket has suggested, from October 15 or thereabouts. 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. It is a monstrous thing that deer are now being shot in the breeding season, hinds in calf among them, and a whole lot of rancid meat is being put on the market at very high prices and being sent to the table as food.

There is another thing I should like to say about the deer before I sit down. It is probably the finest wild animal that we have in the British Isles, and I think it ought not to be hunted from pillar to post, even if its presence should result in there being a few less sheep here and there. I once owned 20,000 black-faced sheep myself—I did not want twenty of them but they were landed on me—so I know a little about it. I cannot see any reason why black-faced sheep farmers should expect deer to be shot in the close season. It is rather a sorry thought in these days that there are large industrial areas where children grow up and never see the wild life of this country. They never see a pheasant or a badger and they would not know one if they did. In fact, about the only time they see wild animals is when they pay a visit to a zoo. If you asked some small boys in a large town what they knew about zebras they would merely say hat they were crossings upon which human beings jumped from point to point in. their efforts to avoid their fellow mortals in motor vehicles. I know that deer help to bring money to the Highlands. I am told that it makes the complete success of! a char-a-banc outing if the party get a chance to see a herd of deer on the hill. Let the deer be kept to proper deer forest ground, let their numbers be reduced where they are doing harm to agriculture, and let them have a close season.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure indeed that this Bill has been introduced. As your Lordships probably know, I have had unusual opportunities of studying both wild deer and deer kept under park conditions; and I think I can claim to resemble William the Conqueror in one respect, if in no other, in that I love the tall deer as though I were their father Although in this country we like to think of ourselves as a nation of sportsmen and animal lovers, it is an unfortunate fact, as we have already been reminded this afternoon, that we treat deer very badly indeed—much worse than they are treated in most Continental countries or in the United States of America. In the past it has been legal to kill them, often by very inhumane methods, including, not only those which your Lordships have heard mentioned, but also snaring and, especially, shooting or attempting to shoot them with shot guns loaded with cartridges containing much too small shot. There has also been a widespread failure to realise the economic value of deer. Deer, whether wild or park, properly managed, can give, I think, a better return in good meat for fodder consumed than can cattle, and pretty well as good a return as the hardier breeds of sheep, by comparison with which they are rather less subject to disease.

The cruelty of modern poaching methods has already been described to your Lordships, and it is well to remember that these poachers are not poor crofters trying to get a meal for their hungry families, but quite well-to-do rascals with all too adequate equipment. It is important that, as is suggested, their equipment, including their cars and their lorries, should be confiscated. At a time when honest men are likely to find it difficult to get motor cars of any kind, surely there is no reason why they should be left in the hands of poachers. I think it would be very unforunate if this Bill had to be confined in its operation entirely to Scotland and entirely to red deer, because, as we have been reminded, there are red deer in the Lake District, in the West Country and in one or two other places, and in many parts of the country there are large numbers of fallow deer and roe deer living wild. These suffer as much as any from cruel shooting with shot guns. I am sorry to say that, although they try to disclaim responsibility both for cruel shooting and for snaring, the Forestry Commission have often been very bad offenders indeed. I agree with those noble Lords who have stressed the importance of a close season. The exact dates can be settled by experts, but I would suggest that in the case of male deer the open season should be from about July 20 to October 10, while the open season for females I should make from November 1 until February 1.

There is, of course, the problem of deer damage. It is an important problem, but not one incapable of solution. One has to admit that it is certainly a fact that deer can do serious damage to crops and to young plantations of hardwood trees, but unless they are numerous and hungry—the opinion of the Forestry Commission to the contrary notwithstanding—they do not usually do a great deal of damage to conifers. I am inclined to take rather a neutral or unsympathetic attitude towards people who grudge deer ordinary hill grazing, because, as I have said, they can be just as important as a food asset as the sheep themselves. There must be give and take on both sides. If deer have to be killed because there are too many on sheep ground, they should be killed at the time when they can make the best return in meat. In places where deer are likely to do real damage it is important to get some impartial local authority who will visit the ground and decide whether damage is really being done. Of course, whatever the time of year, it must be made legal to kill deer when they do damage.

The suggestion made by Mr. Whitehead for the marking of carcases killed during the close season should not be turned down too readily, as I believe it has been found to work well in foreign countries. Although it may be true that normally deer are skinned before they are marketed, surely it would be easy to leave the head, ears and skin of the head on the carcase. The following is suggested as the actual technique for marking the carcase. The actual marking should consist of a small aluminium strip, about half-an-inch wide and five inches long, which is folded in two and stapled on to the ear of the deer with a special type of pliers which punch, secure and seal the tag to the ear. The tag cannot therefore be removed without the seal being broken, and once the seal is broken the tag cannot satisfactorily be replaced. On one half of the tag is the owner's prefix number, and the tags are serially numbered. On the other half of the tag the name and address of the butcher to whom the carcase is being sent is likewise embossed. When the tag is put on, the date should also be embossed in the same way as dairy milk bottle tops are dated.

I think that the snaring of deer and the killing of them with small-bore cartridges should unquestionably be made illegal. In Continental countries it is illegal to kill deer with anything except a rifle, and many sportsmen feel that that rule should be put into operation here. If that is not possible, I understand that there is a cartridge containing what is known as a lethal bullet which can be fired from a shot-gun. If that is established as a humane and effective cartridge to use against deer, I think it should be the only legal alternative to the rifle. There is one other reason for effective marking of deer carcases to permit their sale out of season—that is, that park deer are sometimes in good condition and ready for killing considerably earlier than wild deer. In some parks there are foreign species of deer, such as Japanese deer, which have rather different or entirely different seasons from our own deer, and it is desirable, in these times of meat shortage, to make the best use of deer carcases whether they are those of wild deer or of deer kept under control.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to join with other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill which, as drafted, is at least a good beginning for the proper protection and safeguarding of red deer. I would stress that it is the protection of the red deer with which this Bill is primarily concerned. At the risk of repetition, I should like to mention the two points which have been raised by several noble Lords, because they are so extremely important that I think they should be supported from all quarters of the House. The first is the close season. I will not say much more on that matter, except to stress how important it is, because other noble Lords have made most of the suggestions that can be thought of. I should, however, like to add one suggestion. If, by any unfortunate chance, 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 red deer is a sizeable animal and cannot be moved without its being fairly obvious. If the sale and movement during a period equivalent to a close season are made illegal, I suggest that that may be an inferior but a possible alternative to the imposition of a close season if, unfortunately, agreement on the latter cannot be reached.

My other point concerns the powers of search and seizure. Here I should like to support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, in regard to deer wardens. Surely it should be possible to select a limited and well-spaced number of men of standing and repute to whom these powers could safely be entrusted. Having made these brief remarks, I would add that I agree entirely with the principles of the Bill, and hope that by the time it leaves your Lordships' House it will be in a complete and full condition.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, having lived for many years in the West Highlands I have some knowledge of the subject under discussion, but I do not propose to enlarge on that tonight. I have risen only to support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, and by several other noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Haddington, that a close season should be inserted in the Bill. I do not say that without it the Bill is valueless—far from it. It will be an excellent tiling to get this Bill on the Statute Book. Anxious as I am for agreement, for reasons not unconnected with the debate on Tuesday I hope that the noble Earl will turn a deaf ear to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, to include England in this Bill. If that were done, we should probably lose this Bill, which I should like to see passed. I hope that the unanimity for which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, appealed when he spoke, will prevail, and I express the earnest hope that, in certain negotiations which are shortly to take place, agreement will be reached on the question of a close season and that provision for it will be made in the Bill.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, 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. That is the most important thing, and we have to try and make one further effort to accomplish it in Scotland. After the speeches made on both sides, I think we may be able to come to more agreement than has been reached hitherto. I do not think there is any hostility between farmers and proprietors on this question. It seems to be more a technical problem of agreement upon a method whereby we can take action more quickly when damage is being done, without opening the door too far and allowing people to take unreasonable advantage of any concession which may have been made in the Bill. I feel that we owners and farmers in Scotland must make a further effort, bearing in mind that time is short and that this is the only opportunity we shall have. I have nothing further to add to what has been said by other noble Lords about the Bill, but I should like to add my word of appreciation of the remarks of my noble friend the Duke of Bedford, who has such an unrivalled knowledge of the subject.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity in this debate. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to answer one or two points which were raised by individual speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, asked me what our experience had been of the Salmon Protection Act. If I may, I will send the noble Lord further details about it, but I can tell him in general that we have had several successful prosecutions and, on the whole, it seems that in the Highlands gang poaching has not been nearly so prevalent as it was before the passing of the Act. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, asked me one or two questions. He suggested that the individual poacher might make a profit on the deal if the fine for killing a stag was only £20. I would remind him that the forfeiture of the carcase is provided for in the Bill, and in the event of forfeiture and a fine the poacher would certainly not make a profit. Secondly, the noble Lord asked me about the power of a policeman to apprehend a poacher in a boat, and he had some difficulty about whether the boat would be on land or in the water. Bills of this kind are always full of pleasant surprises, and I would tell the noble Lord that the definition of "land" in Clause 11 provides that "'land' includes land covered by water." I hope that that is a watertight definition which the noble Lord will accept.

As I anticipated, the debate has concentrated on what I had detected as being two possible weaknesses in the Bill. I will look into both of those questions very closely. On the matter of extending beyond the policeman to other persons associated with him the right of search and apprehension, I do not hold out to your Lordships, any very great hope. The only possibility would seem to be to include some persons who were the servants of a statutory authority, as in the parallel case of the Salmon Protection Act, where bailiffs are given similar powers to those given to policemen in this respect. I will, with your Lordships' permission, consult with the Lord Advocate to see whether we can give any concession which will meet the point made by various noble Lords.

On the question of the close season, as I said at the beginning I agree that if we could include such a provision it would add to the value of the Bill. It is desirable, both from the point of view of eliminating cruelty and also, as one or two noble Lords have pointed out, because there are owners of deer forests, as is well known, who do shoot the deer all the year round and market the meat, often for the use of the greyhound racing tracks. Her Majesty's Government are concerned to see that the agricultural interests are properly protected in this matter. I do not think there is any difficulty about the roving deer which comes down on to the croft and the enclosed land. The tenant is properly protected under the Agriculture (Scotland) Act of 1948, and he can legally dispose of the deer. The difficulty arises on the outrun, where the farmer runs his sheep—and that is the difficulty which the Black-faced Sheep Breeders' Association have found.

I do not think we should exaggerate the difference that exists here. 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. Therefore, the area which we have to cover is comparatively narrow. I will, if I may, when I return to Edinburgh this week, take the initiative and get the various parties to- gether to see whether we cannot reconcile this comparatively narrow difference and provide in the Bill for a close season to be set up. I will tell the parties concerned of the unanimous appeal that has come this afternoon from your Lordships' House. With those assurances, perhaps your Lordships will be content this afternoon to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I hope that when we meet again for the Committee stage we shall have a happy outcome on this particular point.

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