§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD FORBES)
My Lords, as I am presenting from the Front Bench the Second Reading of a Bill to your Lordships for the first time, I ask your Lordships' indulgence for any errors other than acts of discourtesy I may make. Owing to my inexperience, I trust that if, during my innings, the bowling becomes too fast, your Lordships, mindful of your usual understanding but forgetting your unsurpassed ability, will drop me in the slips. I would, however, remind your Lordships that if any noble Lord starts "body-line bowling" and causes me grievous harm, I have right behind me my noble friend the Leader of the House, who will at once step in as my runner, as it was the noble Earl himself who so ably steered a Bill concerning the poaching of deer through this House six years ago
My Lords, I find myself in the position of poacher turned gamekeeper, as it was only last Session that I myself was pressing Her Majesty's Government to introduce a Bill such as this. It therefore gives me great personal pleasure to attempt to describe this Bill which is now before your Lordships.
561 The previous Bill passed by your Lordships' House was founded on the Report of the Scott Henderson Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals. That Bill was designed to prevent illegal taking and killing of deer by inhumane methods. However, during the course of the debates on that Bill the feeling was strongly expressed that close seasons were also necessary. The Bill was later withdrawn, and the question of the introduction of close seasons was referred to a Committee under the chairmanship of Sheriff Maconochie. Unfortunately, this Committee failed to reach an agreed conclusion and they presented a Majority and a Minority Report.
This appeared at the time to have created something of a deadlock. Happily, the Nature Conservancy later brought together the interests concerned, the Scottish Landowners' Federation, the British Field Sports Society of Scotland, the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, and the Blackfaced Sheep Breeders' Association, to see whether some basis of agreement could be found. Such a basis was in fact found, and in September, 1956, these organisations submitted an agreed Report. It is on this agreed Report that the present Bill is based, and I should like at this stage to pay tribute to the Nature Conservancy for the initiative which they took. Also, I should like to thank the other organisations concerned for the helpful and constructive way in which they responded.
Before touching on the detailed provisions of the Bill I must emphasise one point. The Bill is framed, in the words of the Long Title:to further the conservation and control of red deer in Scotland, and to prevent the illegal taking and killing of all species of deer in Scotland.Thus, the purpose of this Bill is to deal with the deer problem in Scotland as a whole. We are not therefore, just reintroducing the 1952 Bill with modifications. This is not only a new but also a comprehensive approach, designed to deal with all problems relating to deer, especially rod deer.
Your Lordships will observe that in the forefront of the Bill we have put provisions for the conservation and control of red deer—provisions to be administered by a Red Deer Commission to be appointed by the Secretary of State. The 562 joint Report recognises—and I quote the words:that deer have their proper niche in the pattern of pastoral and sporting life and that wise conservation, based on balance and control, must make for improved herds of deer.On the other hand, they agree, and rightly so, that the deer population in Scotland requires to be controlled in the interests of agriculture. I am not going to attempt to measure these problems of conservation, on the one hand, and control, on the other. Obviously, conditions vary enormously from area to area. It will be for the Commission, when it is set up, first, to investigate the circumstances of each area, then to embark upon local consultations, and finally to reach conclusions as to the action to be taken.
Your Lordships will see from the provisions of Clause 1 that it is proposed that the Commission should be constituted on a widely representative basis. It will therefore be a knowledgeable body and one which can act with authority. Owing to this it is essential that we should not attempt to lay down detailed rules or formulæ. Rather, it is surely best to confer general powers on a body so constituted as to command the confidence of all the interests concerned.
Now, my Lords, I should like to say a few words about the general powers which it is proposed to give the Commission. Clause 3 imposes on the Commission a duty to advise the Secretary of State on matters relating to red deer, and Clause 4 permits them to advise owners of land on matters relating to the management of deer stocks. In addition, Clause 4 empowers the Commission to collaborate with others in the investigation of questions of practical or scientific importance relating to red deer. I hope that through the use of these powers the Commission will exercise a helpful influence in furthering the conservation and improvement in quality of red deer in appropriate areas of Scotland. Your Lordships will notice that in this matter of conservation we are relying on persuasion. The Commission will have no power to force their advice upon owners. They will act only at the request of owners.
However, when it comes to the matter of protecting agricultural and forestry interests, stronger powers will be needed, including powers of a compulsory nature. And here let me say this. I trust and 563 believe that when agricultural or forestry interests are being harmed the Commission will generally be able to enlist the co-operation of deer forest owners and others in the necessary remedial measures. But should this co-operation not be forthcoming, compulsory powers must be available for use where necessary. Two main powers of this kind are provided for in the Bill: first, to deal with marauding deer and, secondly, to make control schemes for the reduction in the number of deer in any area or, in appropriate cases, for the extermination of the deer in particular areas. I should like now to say a little about each of these powers.
Clause 6 deals with marauding deer and empowers the Commission, where they find that red deer are habitually invading agricultural land and causing substantial damage, to authorise competent persons to follow and kill such deer. This is obviously a case in which urgent action may have to be taken, and the best way of getting quick and effective action will usually be to secure the co-operation of the owner of the land from which the offending deer have come. This co-operation will, I hope, usually be forthcoming, but we must legislate for the case in which, for one reason or another, it is not given. We have therefore provided that the Commission may take action themselves after giving 24 hours' notice of their intention to do so. We have also provided, as your Lordships will see from Clause 2, subsection (2), that the Commission may delegate their powers concerning marauding deer to local panels which they may set up with the approval of the Secretary of State.
I should like to point out that the power to take prompt action to deal with marauding deer is only of a first-aid or emergency character. Looking further ahead, undoubtedly more radical measures will be needed in many districts—measures designed to secure a permanent reduction in deer stocks or, in some areas, measures to exterminate the deer altogether. For this purpose the Commission will be empowered to make control schemes. Here more elaborate provisions are called for, and these will be found in Clauses 7 to 11 and in the Second Schedule. Your Lordships will note that before taking action under 564 Clause 7 the Commission must be satisfied that red deer have caused serious damage to agriculture or forestry and that such damage is likely to be continued. They must then seek to secure action to put matters right through voluntary agreement. If, failing such agreement, they have to resort to a formal control scheme, they must, in framing it—I quote from the Bill—have due regard to the nature and character of the land in the area".Before coming into operation any control scheme must be confirmed by the Secretary of State. The detailed procedure for making control schemes is set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill. The procedure is on lines which will, I am sure, be familiar, and, I hope, acceptable to your Lordships. I fully appreciate that some of the provisions and procedures relating to control schemes are somewhat elaborate. However the action to be taken under a control scheme may be of a far-reaching character and it is only right that there should be adequate provision for objections and inquiry.
Part I of the Bill also contains a number of provisions of a supplementary character. Of these I would only draw your Lordships attention to Clause 12 which empowers the Commission to assist owners or occupiers of land in killing deer and in disposing of the carcases.
The first Part of the Bill also includes, in Clause 20 the necessary provisions for the establishment of close seasons for red deer. The introduction of close seasons is, of course one of the points agreed on by the organisations. I think I should tell your Lordships that not only did the organisations recommend the suggested dates but they also recommended bringing close seasons into operation some three years after the control provisions become effective. Even when they do come into operation, close seasons will not affect the work of the Red Deer Commission or the right given to occupiers by Section 43 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, to kill deer by day on their enclosed lands.
My Lords, with Part II of the Bill we reach what I call familiar home ground—or should I say Home ground, because, as I have already stated, this is where my noble Leader has already 565 charted the course. The object of this Part of the Bill, which covers deer of all species (not just red deer as in Part I) is to give the police and the courts in Scotland greater powers to deal with the indiscriminate and cruel slaughter or wounding of deer.
There is no doubt that practices of this sort have increased to an alarming extent in Scotland since the War. Gangs come out by car or lorry, mostly from places many miles away from the deer forests. They sometimes work during the hard weather when the deer are low down, but mostly they operate at night when the deer come to the lower ground and are often found close to the road, where they can be easily dazzled by car headlights or spotlights and then massacred, sometimes with Sten guns or other such weapons. This leads not only to the slaughter of deer but, what is worse, to the wounding or maiming of a great many. Perhaps the most pitiful sight of all is helpless calves being left to a lingering death when their mothers have been killed by the ruthless gangs. Part II of the Bill therefore is designed to prevent cruelty rather than just to preserve the rights of owners of deer forests.
Clause 22 makes it an offence to take or wilfully kill deer without legal right or without permission, written or oral, from a person having such right. This is in fact the position under the existing law to-day, hut the offender is liable only to minor penalties under the Game (Scotland) Act, 1832, or to a civil action for interdict. This Bill, however, will provide more adequate sanctions. Clause 23 makes it an offence to kill deer at night in any circumstances, or in daylight otherwise than by shooting with a non-repeating rifle or shotgun. I should add, however, that under Clause 33, later in the Bill, there are no restrictions on the method or time of killing deer to prevent their suffering through injury or disease.
Clause 24 prescribes specially heavy penalties for offences by gangs of two or more persons. Clause 25 provides that possession of deer or firearms or ammunition, in circumstances indicating that an offence has been committed, is in itself an offence. This is to meet the case in which the offender is not caught actually taking the deer but is found in circumstances which clearly suggest he has done so illegally: for example, a person or 566 persons leaving a glen in a motor van loaded with recently killed stags. Under this clause a court will be able to convict for offences on the evidence of one witness. This, again, is clearly necessary, because there will often be only a single stalker, gamekeeper or shepherd at the scene of the offence.
Clause 26 provides that attempts to commit offences shall be treated in the same way as actual offences. Clause 27 gives the police powers of seizure of deer, firearms, ammunition, vehicles or boats—all of which are liable to forfeiture. It gives also, in relation to gang offences, powers of search of premises, vehicles or boats. These are very necessary powers, as at present the police have no authority to stop or search vehicles which may be being used for the illegal killing of deer. The remaining clauses in Part II deal with the necessary powers of arrest, forfeiture and disposal of forfeited articles. I am sure your Lordships will agree that all these powers are both reasonable and necessary, and that they should commend themselves to public opinion generally.
Part III of the Bill contains some general provisions which need no comment. In conclusion, I should like to emphasise that in this Bill the Government are endeavouring, in an atmosphere of general agreement between all the interests concerned, to solve the deer problem in Scotland, a problem which, although known to exist for many years, has escaped a solution. This, surely, is a worthy aim, and one which leads me with confidence to commend the Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Forbes.)
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome the speech that has been made by the Minister of State. I do so with great pleasure. He has already been commended to us by the form of election through which he had to pass before he became one of the Scottish Representative Peers in this House. So already he has had the stamp of approval placed upon him, and I am sure that he has our regard. The speech he has made to-day and the careful way in which he has explained the terms of this Bill have commended him to us all, and I look forward to his intervention 567 for a long time to come on legislative measures for the benefit of Scotland. We learned to care greatly for his predecessor in the office which he now holds, and I look forward to his adequately filling that position.
This is a controversial Bill. There is a distinct cleavage of interest covered by it. To some people, deer bring to mind the Landseer painting, The Monarch of The Glen. To others, those who have suffered from the depredations of deer, I am afraid that they are looked upon as vermin. The noble Lord has sought to bridge these differences in commending this Bill to us to-day. I suppose the one thing that we can most readily agree about is the prevention of wanton cruelty by night poachers who, under the law as it stands at present, cannot be adequately prevented from their cruelty. Reference is made to the policing that is necessary. It seems to me that when these gangs get going a solitary policeman in the wild, open spaces of Scotland will be in a precarious position. I hope that that fact will be kept in mind.
It is this aspect of things—the wanton cruelty that has been described—that moves me to speak on the Second Reading of the Bill. I am not well-informed on the general question covered by the Bill. I have never lived in the Highlands. I have looked out upon the deer forests when travelling, and the thing that has struck me most is that there is no forest. One looks for trees in forests; yet seldom does one come across trees in deer forests. As I say, I am glad that this Bill seeks to deal with the indiscriminate slaughter of deer. It may still occur that an unskilful user of a rifle may inflict injury on an animal, but let us hope that he will be under the observation of a gillie, and that the gillie will be able to remedy any faults that he may have.
The question arises about the position of the crofter or land holder who finds deer from enclosed or unenclosed land menacing his crops or the grazings for his sheep or cattle. Here there emerges a conflict between the occupiers of a deer forest and the occupiers of land used for cultivation. In justice it would appear that the deer forest owner who obtains a reward for letting his land for shooting should compensate a crop owner for any damage that the latter suffers. I suppose 568 it is looked upon as impossible to prevent by fencing the trespass of deer from the so-called deer forests on to land used for crofting or farming or forestry. I would ask whether the Secretary of State has used properly the powers conferred upon him under Part III of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, which give him the right to require landowners to destroy injurious animals, including deer. I also ask, will the proposed Commission to be set up under this Bill be any more successful than the Secretary of State has been? I fondly hope that it may be.
Speaking of the proposed Commission, I have received complaints that its constitution is faulty, in that six persons out of ten are more likely to be concerned with the conservation than with the control of deer. There is no provision for representation of the Crofting Commission, the Forestry Commission or forestry interests. Surely these are serious omissions. The First Schedule makes it clear that the Commission is to be paid from funds provided by the Treasury. I ask: Why? The persons who should pay for control of red deer are the deer forest owners, and I ask noble Lords to take a look at salmon fishings as a pattern of what might be done in this regard.
One of the first tasks for the Commission must be to determine how many deer can be carried without danger to agriculture and forestry interests. I understand that the present estimate of the deer population is in the region of 100,000, although I have seen the figure put considerably higher even than that. The question is: Can we afford to carry that number of deer? Another task which might usefully be referred to the Commission is the giving of advice on close season provisions. There will be differences of opinion about those, and the question arises: Why should the date for the commencement of operation be October 21, 1962? I do not want to go into further detail and shall not do so, but I express the opinion that this is a Bill with great potentialities, if it is properly used and provided that the competing interests can be prevailed upon to agree.
§ 3.13 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those so well expressed by the noble Lord who has just spoken to our new Minister of State on his appointment; 569 and I should like to congratulate him, too, on the clarity and ability with which he has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I am personally delighted that one of his first duties on assuming office should be to introduce legislation for the protection of deer in Scotland, for which I know he has pressed more than once in the past.
Now, at length, we have this Bill to control and protect deer in Scotland. I believe it to be a very good Bill and a workmanlike measure, and as it is based largely on the agreed views of all the various organisations concerned I feel that it ought to have a speedy passage through Parliament and be effective in its objects. But surely there is one very serious omission from the Bill, for whereas in Clause 20 the Bill provides for a close season for red deer, there is no provision for a close season for our other native deer—the roe. This Bill deals with the whole question of deer in Scotland, and not only with red deer. Part II of the Bill is concerned with the illegal poaching, taking and killing of all forms of deer, and it seems quite illogical to me that roe deer should be excluded from the close season provisions in Clause 20 which are to apply to red deer.
The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has said some people regard deer as vermin. Here I must cross swords with him, because I do not see how anyone can look upon such a noble animal as the red deer as vermin, although some people regard roe deer as vermin. As a forester, I know only too well that roe deer do a great deal of damage to forestry, but I do not think they have been left out of the close season provisions of the Bill on forestry grounds alone. The reason why I say that is because the Forestry Commission themselves have for many years past provided, and still provide to-day, a close season for does, although not for bucks. That in itself, I feel, lends great weight to my suggestion that there should be a close season for doe roe deer.
It seems to me both wrong and cruel that these animals should be allowed to be shot, either at a time when they are carrying their young or when the young fawns are unable to fend for themselves. If they are doing damage they can easily be shot, but I maintain that it is not right to shoot them during the winter 570 months. If the Bill goes through as it is, we shall have the situation that a man can come and poach by fair means—if one can call poaching "by fair means "—and take away in the winter time one animal, which he might kill stone-dead, fairly and cleanly with a rifle, and yet be put on a charge, whereas people who have a legal right to kill roe deer on their land can take that animal by any means, at any season of the year, without any regard to the humanities. I feel obliged to put down on the Committee stage an Amendment on this point. If the noble Lord in charge of the Bill can see fit to put down a Government Amendment, so much the better; but I would suggest that this can be dealt with in a new clause, in a separate part of the Bill, because Part I is concerned solely with red deer and Part II is concerned with the taking and killing of all forms of deer. I stress this point and will say little about the remainder of the Bill.
I think it is a great step forward that the onus of proof of the legal right to kill deer is in future to lie upon the person asserting such right. I feel that this will be of great help to the police in their difficult task of apprehending poachers; for, as the noble Lord has said, their work will be difficult enough in some of these remote and lonely areas of the Highlands. I only wish that some provision could have been made for the appointment of special constables to help them. In the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, there was provision for the Secretary of State to appoint water bailiffs, and they have been of tremendous help to the police. They have powers to stop people, and even to seize salmon; and if similar provisions could have been made in this Bill for the appointment of special constables to assist the police it would, I believe, have been of very great help to them. Perhaps before the Committee stage the noble Lord in charge of the Bill may examine that possibility. Legislation may be hard to put into effect, but nothing can be done without legislation. I feel that the greatly increased penalties which this Bill imposes will be a strong deterrent—at any rate, I hope they will be—so strong, in fact, that malefactors will not feel it worth while running the risk of incurring them. So, my Lords, with this provision about the red deer, I beg leave to give my warm 571 support to the Bill, and I hope that it will soon find its way to the Statute Book.
§ 3.21 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
My Lords, may I at once say how pleased we all are to see the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, in a position to pilot this Bill satisfactorily, I hope, through your Lordships' House. I know that this will give great pleasure to our Leader, and I believe that it has been chiefly his help and advice over many years that have made this Bill possible. I have had the greatest sympathy with our Representatives from Scotland who, year after year, probably at great expense and with a certain amount of discomfort, have travelled to your Lordships' House only to be stonewalled in the past by the Scottish Office.
It is horrifying to think that, until this Bill is passed, we still remain practically the only country in Europe that regards the red deer as vermin. I am afraid that this policy, unlike that in our great Dominions, seems to be carried out in our Colonial Empire, for your Lordships are well aware of the awful annual and legal slaughter of deer that takes place, particularly in Northern Rhodesia, and of the vast amount of poaching, which is growing worse day by day, especially in Tanganyika. As representing the Fauna Preservation Society, may I say, on their behalf, how warmly we welcome this Bill, and at the same time state that we regard the true sportsman as the greatest conservationist of all.
May I turn for a few moments to the Bill in detail? The main point on the close season for red deer is that it does not come into operation until October 22, 1962. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, in his reply could state why it is not possible for this to be ante-dated by at least one year; and, also whether it would be possible for the close season for stags to be from October 21, not to June 30, but to July 31. We all appreciate that the stags will still be in velvet then, but that date may be preferable. In regard to the close season for hinds, would it be possible to extend this period from February 16 to October 31—not October 21—thus giving the deer forests 572 a ten-day rest for peace and quiet between the end of the stag-stalking season and the beginning of the hind season?
As regards Clause 22, the fine on summary conviction, as I understand it, is "not exceeding £20" on the sale of the first carcase. Would not a fine of £20 per carcase make the offence even more non-worthwhile to commit? At the present rates the sale of a second carcase would possibly pay the fine. The point I particularly regret is contained in Clause 23 (2). While it forbids the killing of deer by any method other than shooting, it permits deer to be shot with shotguns. Would the Government consider an Amendment as follows:It shall be an offence to take or wilfully kill deer otherwise than by shooting, and shooting for the purposes of this section means discharging a rifle of minimum calibre of 0.256."?This provision is practically universal in the countries of Europe, and I believe that the killing of red deer, or possibly their wounding, by shotguns is far more cruel than killing out of season. I know that in the Bill there is a reference to the Firearms Act, 1947, and that, I believe, deals with shotguns.
Finally, I would make one more suggestion. Would the Government consider making it illegal for butchers and cold storage companies to accept any venison between February 20 and August 1 unless they are in possession of a copy of the written authorisation of the Commission enabling them to kill marauding deer out of season? This would put the Bill on a more satisfactory basis, I believe, and possibly make it even easier to adminster. May I assure your Lordships' representatives from Scotland, particularly those from the Highlands, that we await with great interest their various suggestions, possible Amendments and even criticisms of this Bill; and I only hope that my colleagues from the Lowlands and England and elsewhere within our Empire have not butted in too much on a subject that is of primary importance to them.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I also should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Forbes. I am sure that he will prove a worthy champion for all in Scotland who are interested 573 in this Bill. I should like also to congratulate the Government on at last producing this Bill. I say "at last" because ever since the end of the war all with a true knowledge and love of the red deer of Scotland have hoped and prayed that a close season could become law, with heavy penalties for illegal killing.
My reasons for taking part in this debate are twofold: first, as the owner of a Highland estate long renowned as a good deer forest, and secondly, as a big sheep farmer on the same estate. I have therefore had ample opportunity since a boy of studying the habits of sheep and deer in relation to each other. It probably puzzles many people why the red deer, by far the largest and finest indigenous mammasl, has never had the protection of the law, while in all Continental countries he has had for centuries the most rigorous protection. The reason is, of course, that up till the last war the red deer were under the protection of the big Highland estates. We shot the stags for only six weeks in the whole year and a few hinds during three months of the winter. Owing to the great social revolution which has followed the war, many of the big Highland estates have been broken up and large areas of deer ground have fallen into the hands of the speculators and people who have not got the same sense of responsibility towards the wild fauna on their land as had their predecessors. They have consequently frequently indulged in indiscriminate killing as opposed to the manly and clean sport of deer stalking. Nor has the State been always blameless on certain lands that they have acquired. The big estates that have remained reasonably intact have had to reduce drastically the numbers of their stalkers and keepers. This, coupled with the high post-war price of venison, has led to the bestial slaughterings of all classes of red deer by gangs of thugs, at all times of the year, which the Press has lately been reporting.
As a result of his pre-war protection by the big landowners, the stag acquired one advantage and one disadvantage. The advantage he gained was protection from extermination and the advantage of being shot in a clean manner during the correct season of the year: but the disadvantage he acquired—and this is important, my Lords—is that he became 574 a pawn in Party politics. He became looked upon as the exclusive preserve of a privileged class. He was accordingly accredited with all kinds of misdemeanours. He was, for instance, often accused of being responsible for the crofter clearances of the 19th century (in passing, I agree not a nice chapter in Highland history), whereas in fact it was the sheep and the economic necessity of the crofters themselves that were really responsible.
The stag is still accused, by those ignorant enough, of depriving large areas of the Highlands of sheep and cattle grazing. Was it not a famous statesman early in this century who spoke of "The fat stags lying amongst the lush pastures of the Highlands (under the spreading oak trees) and depriving the people of the land"? Even to-day politicians speak as if there were millions of acres utilised solely for deer which could be more productive. I believe that earlier this year the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson of Drumochter, mentioned three million acres of land in the Highlands as being used primarily for sporting purposes, but I think that the noble Lord will find that the majority of these lands carry some sheep stock or summering cattle—and if they do not there is a very good reason. Many of these areas are covered with snow half the year and are therefore quite useless for a permanent sheep farm. No landowner can to-day afford not to run sheep or cattle on deer ground if it is economic to do so.
It is extremely difficult to let deer-stalking to-day. On the West Coast, for instance, where we have the Gulf Stream and therefore milder winters, I do not know of any deer forest which does not have a sheep stock on it. Here is where I foresee great difficulties regarding Clauses 6 and 7 of this Bill, and if possible I should at some time like guidance from the Minister as to how the Commission propose to distinguish what they call "deer forest areas proper" from hill sheep grazings. In the Central and Eastern Highlands, this will not be so difficult, but in the Western Highlands, where deer and sheep inhabit the same ground, I am at a complete loss to understand how this distinction is to be made.
I am also not too happy about the persons who are to be chosen by the Commission to follow and kill marauding deer. Apparently these persons are to be 575 allowed on to any land mentioned in the authorisation and are to be allowed to kill such red deer as appear to them to be causing damage. My Lords, my experience of the State as landowner on deer ground is that they have often empowered any Tom, Dick or Harry who had some knowledge of rifle shooting to murder the deer. The obvious people capable of shooting marauding deer are stalkers from the neighbouring estates. After all, one of the main objects of this Bill is surely to prevent cruelty. It could happen that the cure could become more cruel than the illness. Therefore, I hope that the Commission will be extra careful in deciding who is to kill marauding deer.
From my own experience, I would say that the destruction of deer in a given area does not necessarily enable the sheep stock of that area to be increased. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, several years ago purchased a deer forest marching with mine. They succeeded, by constant slaughter, in reducing to an insignificant number the deer on their hills. Yet, so far as I am aware, this has not helped them to carry any larger sheep stock than before. I still consider my estate at Benmore a deer forest and I have just as many sheep per hundred acres as the Department of Agriculture have on their hills from which the deer have been cleared. I have the majority of hill grazings in hand but I have one large tenant farmer, who grazes about 10,000 acres on the deer forest. In his tenancy, which is a war-time tenancy, there is no limit to the stock he can put on to graze. He has often tried to increase his sheep stock but finds that if he increases it over a certain number, his ewes die. The interesting part is that the deer stock remains constant. Deer cannot drive off sheep, but sheep can always drive off deer. The obvious conclusion one must come to is that deer are able to thrive on land on which sheep cannot thrive.
Regarding Part II of the Bill, I have been most agreeably surprised by the severity of the sentences. To anyone who has seen the aftermath of poachers' work, as I have seen it—deer with smashed jaws unable to graze; deer staggering along tripping over their entrails; motherless calves dying of starvation—it is absolutely repulsive. My only regret is that some of these thugs 576 cannot be flogged. Of course, in the vast, uninhabited areas of the Highlands, where we have so few policemen, it is going to be very hard, I think, to enforce this Bill, and I think that local magistrates should be empowered to give stalkers and other suitable persons power to stop and search cars and, if necessary, to seize cars, rifles and poached deer.
I have always thought that chief constables of counties in the Highlands have been too free in the granting of firearms certificates. All kinds of people seem to have rifles. Every grocer's van and every trader's van, so far as I can see, appears to carry a rifle. Probably their owners apply for these rifles to shoot 'rabbits and rooks, but the trouble is that some of them shoot at the deer, and often instead of killing the deer succeed only in wounding them. On the whole I welcome this Bill most heartily, though landowners will have to relinquish some of their rights in the interests of the deer themselves, which, after all, are by far our most beautiful wild animal. I personally am only too pleased to relinquish those rights. I wholly support the Bill.