HL Deb 18 November 1958 vol 212 cc580-600

4.0 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, in common with all your Lordships who have spoken, I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, most heartily on the way in which he has presented this small but important measure to your Lordships' House. In particular, I would commend not only his clarity but his brevity, an example which might be followed with advantage by various Members on both Front Benches in your Lordships' House.

This measure is not brought in as a measure against poaching. It is not a landlords' Bill, and had the question of poaching been the only one at issue the Bill would never have appeared in your Lordships' House. There are really three aspects from which it has to be considered: the question of cruelty, the question of the preservation of law and order and the question of damage by deer to agriculture and forestry. The poaching aspect, though important, is one of little weight so far as the Bill as a whole is concerned. Of course, in the past there has been an undue amount of sympathy towards the poachers. Many of your Lordships will remember the fictional figure of John MacNab, who shot and removed stags under the noses of the stalkers. John MacNab was not a legendary figure but one who existed and who is still alive to-day, at an advanced age. No one is more angry at the present situation than is John MacNab.

As the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has indicated, the amount of cruelty that has been perpetrated by poachers on red deer in the north of Scotland is truly shocking. Most of your Lordships will be familiar with the details, so I do not intend to go into them at any great length. As the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, briefly described, their method is usually to go in lorries or cars along the roads at night and dazzle the deer with their headlights or spotlights—something which is very easy to do—and then to open fire with rifles, or, occasionally, with automatic weapons like Sten guns, or, more often, with shotguns loaded with heavy shot. The ordinary deer-stalking rifle, used under sporting conditions, is one of the most merciful of weapons. It almost invariably stops the deer, if it does not kill it instantly. But the effect of indiscriminate firing, often with totally unsuitable ammunition, and usually with slugs, into herds of deer, sometimes on the edge of killing range, is that throughout the Highlands everywhere, at all seasons of the year, deer of all ages and both sexes are to be found slowly dying of hideous wounds; and calves are left to starve. Nothing more frightful from the point of view of cruelty could be imagined.

Next we come to the question of law and order. No one can surely approve of the fact that over a certain area of the north of Scotland, particularly in the county of Ross and Cromarty, law and order, so far as the killing of deer is concerned, have practically ceased to exist. It is not the fault of the police, because not only are their numbers quite insufficient to deal with the menace, but their powers hitherto have been almost entirely lacking. A lorry may be, and often has been, stopped on the roads and found to contain a dozen or more freshly killed carcases of red deer; and those in charge of the lorry have laughed in the faces of the police or stalkers who have stopped them because hitherto there has been no legal method of bringing them to hook for the offence. It could not be proved that they had poached the deer, and it was not incumbent upon them to prove that they had permission to shoot deer anywhere.

Furthermore, many of these desperadoes have actually created what amounts to a reign of terror in various areas. In one case that I know of, four of them, returning from a foray, were challenged by a water bailiff. Being a wise man, he made his challenge from behind a rock at a range of about 100 yards. With one accord the four men concerned raised their rifles, and in the moonlight fired in the direction from which the voice had come. One bullet actually struck the rock behind which he was sheltering. Only a few weeks ago another party of stalkers were compelled to leap for their lives when a car was driven straight at them. This condition of affairs is surely one that should not be permitted to continue.

Then we come to the really important question of the damage done by deer to crops. Perhaps at this point your Lordships will forgive a short description which has not hitherto been given this afternoon of what has led up to the present situation. Prior to 1914 there were not many red deer outside the strictly forest areas, and such damage as they did was confined to a limited number of crops on the edge of those areas. But, naturally, during the war of 1914, owing to the absence of both shooting tenants, shooting owners and stalkers, deer increased inordinately in number. I will give one example of what happened in my own county of Perth. There was one forest in which this increase had taken place. Gradually the number of deer became too great for the forest to contain, from their food point of view, so one night in the middle 'twenties a number of the deer, estimated to be between 400 and 500, left that forest and proceeded to the Vale of Strathearn, which is purely arable country, and took up residence in the range of hills immediately to the north-west; and, of course, they gradually spread over a large area. This position was intensified by the last war, and to-day we have deer in inordinate numbers, not only in the deer forests themselves, but also in large tracts of country which for many years have never seen a red deer.

Let me say frankly at this point that I do not agree with those who would like to see red deer completely exterminated except in deer forests. I believe that that would be a step as regrettable as would be the disappearance of all foxes outside the strictly hunting areas—I say this despite my detestation of the whole vulpine race. We want to preserve all wild life in reasonable numbers throughout the country, but there is no doubt that in many districts of Scotland there are deer in large numbers which ought to be reduced to a fragment of their present numbers. That is agreed by virtually all forest owners and owners of non-forest ground upon which these deer are now found.

Only a very few people object to the idea of having a Deer Commission which would superintend and control the number of deer. I myself should have no objection whatsoever. I suffer from the fact that I have neighbours who do not kill down their deer in the way they should. The result is that my sheep farms, which since 1914–18 used to carry a small stock of deer which did not do any harm, have suddenly found an increase in the population as a result of my neighbour's default, the result being that we have had to make great efforts to keep these deer in check. It is not easy to do this when they are being constantly reinforced from areas over which one has no control. For that reason, and because they undoubtedly do a considerable amount of damage in young plantations—especially roe deer, which do far more damage with their horns than by what they eat—it is essential to control the numbers of the deer; and such control can be exercised only by a body like the proposed Red Deer Commission. I therefore give the heartiest possible support to this Bill, which I regard as wholly admirable.

There are, of course, as in every Bill, a few points which I hope will be put right on the Committee stage, and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one or two of them, and to one or two remarks which have been made by various speakers. First of all, I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, in his plea for a close season for roe deer; and with roe deer I would associate fallow deer. Admittedly, these are probably not indigenous to Scotland, and are common only in small areas; but they are still an interesting species, and cruelty perpetrated during the breeding season is the same whatever the variety of deer. Whether it is really practicable to separate roe does and bucks from the point of view of a close season I have rather grave doubts, because when roe are shot for the purpose of destruction it is usually done by driving them and shooting them with a shotgun. I have yet to meet anyone who takes any pleasure in shooting a roe with a shotgun. They are worthy of a better fate—that of being shot with a rifle. Unfortunately, in most areas where roe deer are numerous, and certainly in my own, it is quite unsafe to use a rifle of sufficiently high power in the woods: there are too many people wandering about, with or without justification, and one cannot do it. This means that the roe have to be shot with shotguns, and frankly it is very difficult indeed to distinguish between buck and doe, particularly when the buck happens to have lost his horns, or when they have not yet grown or are still in the rudimentary stage.

I would certainly support the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, in saying that there should certainly be a close season for roe and fallow deer, which I tentatively suggest should be from March 1 to the end of July. At the same time, provision should be made so that where, during the close season, definite damage is being done by either of those species, special permits can be given to owners or occupiers to destroy a specific number of them, equally, of course, with red deer in their close season; otherwise it might well lead to a considerable amount of ill-feeling and unnecessary damage.

I would join issue with the noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, on the question of the bore of rifles. If I understood him right, he was suggesting the prohibition of the use upon deer of any weapon of a calibre smaller than .256. I should regard that as being a very retrograde step. Until recently I myself used such a weapon and was not over-satisfied with it. Unless an animal was struck in a vital spot it tended to go away some distance and had to be followed up for killing. Two years ago I changed to the most modern rifle in this country made by our most famous riflemaker. This weapon has about four times the killing power of the Manliche .256. Its calibre is .244. What ought to be proscribed is the use against deer of the .22 rifle, with straight cartridge and light bullet. The use of such a weapon, even against roe deer, is to be deprecated. Occasionally a clean kill will be made, but in four cases out of five the animal is only wounded and is probably never recovered.

There is one other point, and that is when this provision for a close season should come into effect. As the Bill stands, it is to be 1962. Quite frankly, I regard that as being at least two years too late. I hope that the Government will accept an Amendment to advance the date to 1960. I have been informed (I do not know whether accurately or riot) that the reason for 1962 is to give ample time for the destruction of the inordinate amount of deer that exist in certain areas and which it is considered ought to be shot even during the close season if their numbers are to be reduced to a reasonable figure. There again, it would be quite easy to give a special permit to owners or occupiers, or other qualified persons, to kill deer, up to a limited number, in certain areas. But in my opinion it would be a great pity if we were to allow this slaughter in the breeding season, even by those who have a right to carry it out, to go on as late as 1962. I therefore hope that Her Majesty's Government will reconsider this point. Apart from those points I find very little in the Bill which I cannot heartily commend, and I hope your Lordships will give it an enthusiastic and unopposed Second Reading.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, there is a rather old story about an Irishman who saw a fight going on and inquired whether it was a private fight or could anybody join in. I confess that when I saw this Bill on the Order Paper I said to myself, "That will be an all-Scottish affair and no Englishman need apply." But I am very happy indeed to find that some voices from south of the Border have been raised in the course of this debate.

I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, upon its falling to his lot to introduce a Bill which will, when it becomes law, remove a great evil. How great that evil is has been made clear by the shocking examples of cruelty which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has given your Lordships out of his great experience. It is because the Bill will remove the worst of that cruelty that I venture to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, on bringing it in.

I should also like to congratulate the red deer on their now seeing the prospect of an end to the great inhumanity and cruelty which they have suffered in the past. Perhaps it is not inappropriate to say a word of congratulation to the Field magazine, which has, for many years, carried on an unwearying fight in this matter. I am sure that those who direct and control that paper must feel very happy that this Bill is being debated in your Lordships' House to-day. The cruelty has been indeed dreadful, especially cruelty inflicted when shotguns are employed to kill the deer. It adds poignancy to the cruelty that it takes place amid scences of such great natural beauty—beauty to which the red deer themselves are such an ornament.

But there is, of course, bound to be a conflict of interests raised in the discussions on this Bill. On the one hand there are some individuals who I see described as reactionary Tory lairds and who have exerted sufficient pressure to get the Bill introduced in order to facilitate their sport, quite regardless of the interests of the farmers and the crofters. Those farmers and crofters lead a very hard life. They often have a struggle to make ends meet, and it will be most necessary during the Committee stage to watch carefully to see that the balance of interests between the landlords and the farmers and crofters is preserved. I believe that the farmers' interests as regards the destruction of red deer can be maintained without the infliction of such cruelty as has gone on in the past—but that is a matter which will come out in the Committee stage. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, say that under this Bill where red deer have to be destroyed the killing will be done by competent persons instead of by such "butchers" as carry it out to-day.

I have spoken of the interests of the landlords and of the farmers; but I suppose there are commercial interests involved, too. I daresay that many of your Lordships who have ordered steak diane in a restaurant have, though they did not know it, eaten venison; and I am told also that those who are interested in greyhound racing tracks are known to employ the gangs who have been spoken of to-day in order to kill deer for feeding the greyhounds. I do not know whether or not the directors of these tracks get some of the more choice parts of the deer, but undoubtedly the deer do find their way into the kennels of the greyhound tracks.

In listening to the noble Lord's exposition of the Bill, I thought it rather surprising to find that "a gang" may be defined as consisting of two persons. Two people seem to be rather fewer than I have been accustomed to think of as forming a gang. But can it be that one explanation is that this poaching may frequently be confined to two men—a father and a son, or two brothers? Because people who are engaged in breaking the law often like to keep it in the family and do not want to bring in outsiders and strangers who might give the show away on some occasion. That may explain the provision about "a gang" consisting of two people.

Then, as regards the provision that a conviction may take place upon the evidence of one person, I would point out that a magistrate likes to have more than one witness when trying a case; but surely it must be the fact that great numbers of motorists are convicted on the strength of the evidence of one police constable—in fact, it might be difficult to carry out the law if it were obligatory to have more than one witness. My noble friend Lord Mathers spoke about the difficulties which will confront the solitary policeman operating over an enormous tract of country. I see the point; but I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it would be possible to effect any check through the shops where venison is sold. I am quite ignorant on that point, but it occurs to me that it might be possible to get at the business that way, by checking at the shops where this venison is sold.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment? I have more in mind the danger that one person runs in seeking to have the law adhered to. We had an instance of this only at the week-end—I think it was last Saturday—on the estate of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. One of his employees was set upon by two poachers and was rendered unconscious. The policeman or game-watcher is running a great risk with these unscrupulous poachers.


Yes, I quite accept that from my noble friend. These poachers are often desperate and tough men, and undoubtedly the risk of which my noble friend has spoken exists.

My Lords, the only thing I should like to do in conclusion is to congratulate the Government on having, at last, brought a Bill for this purpose before Parliament. May I express the hope that the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, may yet see a Bill brought in to provide a close season for the roe deer?

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in this debate because I have no personal knowledge or experience of this problem except as a member of the Nature Conservancy. As a member of the Nature Conservancy, I naturally heard with great pleasure the tribute which the noble Lord who introduced this Bill paid to the long and patient negotiations on this matter with all the interests concerned. This is, of course, a problem that will attract a great deal of attention outside this country. Two years or so ago the Nature Conservancy and the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves invited the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to meet in Edinburgh, and I know well that nothing impressed our foreign visitors so much as the sight of the red deer, in their natural surroundings and quite unmolested by man. They commented upon that as a sight which could not be seen anywhere else in Europe, and which alone made a visit to the Highlands well worth while for anybody interested in fauna or in nature conservation. But they went on to say how amazing it was that in this country, alone among the civilised countries of Europe, there was no close time for these magnificent creatures. That reproach is now being ended by this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Willingdon, has said, it is to be hoped that the date for applying the close season may be reconsidered, perhaps on the lines which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has just suggested.

I trust that this Bill will not be regarded in any quarter as controversial. No doubt there is a balance of interests, but those interests have been carefully balanced. I think that the Government are to be congratulated upon taking this moment to introduce their Bill, when that agreement has been reached and before the willingness to agree has begun to evaporate, as willingness to agree too often does if measures are too long delayed. There is the legitimate sporting interest; there is the protection required by those who may suffer either from the depredations of the red deer or from competition from them: there is the interest of all those who wish to see the species preserved, and there may be the interest to which Lord Winster has referred, that of deer as a meat supply. In many countries and in regard to many creatures the fauna are regarded as a crop which, if properly managed and carefully conserved, is indefinitely renewable; whereas if it is not properly managed and properly conserved it may disappear or deteriorate.

There is one other point that I should like to mention as one of general interest. The Bill is very careful to use the word "conservation" and not "protection". I believe that that is important and is not merely a terminological difference. It is not a question of protecting animals against man but of conserving what is, it we take a wide enough view, a great natural resource in the human interest, not merely in the interest of the landlord, the sportsman or the sentimental naturalist. Taking every interest into account, surely it is important to emphasise the aspect of conservation rather than protection. Conservation and control go hand in hand. They are not merely compatible with one another but are essentially complementary.

In this particular instance, as I believe the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, pointed out, control—and possibly, in many areas, drastic control—is essential to the proper conservation of a really healthy stock of these animals. On all these grounds I welcome the Bill, not merely as an Englishman who goes to Scotland and can enjoy the sight of these deer, but as one interested in the conservation of nature, and knowing how these careful provisions will be appreciated by other countries who are looking for examples of ways in which these problems should be approached. And I welcome it most of all because I believe that this is a most opportune moment, when all the interests, different though not necessarily conflicting (because I believe that, in the last resort, under proper control, they will not conflict), are now prepared to accept the Bill, to put it on the Statute Book; and the sooner that is done the better it will be for all interested. I should like to end by saying how much I enjoyed listening to the noble Lord who introduced the Bill and to his very clear explanation of its main provisions.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, on this, the first occasion on which he has been in charge of a Bill in your Lordships' House, on the clear and concise manner in which he explained it to your Lordships. I should like to congratulate him, also, on another count—the speed with which he has been able to bring this measure before the House. In that connection I seem to remember other occasions when some of your Lordships were understandably impatient at what was considered to be unreasonable delay in putting into legislative form proposals which were contained in the agreed Report of the interests chiefly concerned in this matter. But these proposals were not in all respects suitable for legislation. Some of them required amendment, and great care had to be taken, as has been emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that, in making any detailed alterations which were considered desirable, the basis of agreement which had been reached be-between the parties was not upset. As we have been reminded, agreement was reached only after many years of argument and consultation.

For myself, I believe that the time that has elapsed since the Report was received has been well spent, and I feel that that is confirmed by the reception which your Lordships have given this Bill this afternoon, for it seems to me that your Lordships find it to be fair and in accord with the views expressed in the Report. To-day this House has given this Bill a favourable reception, though I have no doubt that, as has been suggested by several noble Lords, when we come to examine it in more detail Amendments will be put forward. I wonder whether the House will bear with me if I dare to issue a word of warning in that connection. It is to ask noble Lords who desire to make Amendments whether they will consider them in the light of the agreement which has been reached by the interested parties so that the balance of agreement may not be upset. I am quite certain that if this Bill is to achieve its purpose, as we all hope it will, it must have the good will of all who are concerned. I believe that the Bill will go far towards remedying a situation which, in one or another of its aspects, has caused grave concern throughout the whole of Scotland for many years, and not least in the immediate past. For that reason I most warmly commend it to your Lordships, and I hope, with other noble Lords, that it may have a speedy passage here and proceed on its way to another place.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord the Minister replies, I should like to say just two things that I do not think have yet been said. We have here a Bill for which we have been begging for a very long time, and I hope that we shall send it to another place as quickly as possible, while they are not overcome with business, so that we can get it through. My main reason for speaking is this: until there is on the Statute Book a Statute about this matter those unthinking creatures who commit the atrocities which make us so angry and ashamed will not fully realise that their conduct is wrong. A Statute on the Statute Book has a tremendous effect on public opinion in matters of guilt and innocence, and that is a reason which I believe is quite important.

Secondly, I think the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, will remember that my noble friend the late Lord Morrison (and if I can refer to any one of your Lordships as my friend I can certainly refer to him in that way) himself wanted to introduce a Bill on this subject many years ago. He went personally to Scotland and travelled all over the country making inquiries. When he returned he told me, with regret, that the circumstances in Scotland made it impossible for such a Bill to be introduced at that time. I venture to remind the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, of that fact because I hope that both sides will be in complete agreement about getting this Bill through. Finally, I should like to add my own voice to what has been said by other noble Lords on the way in which my noble friend Lord Forbes has introduced this Bill. Those of us who had the privilege of friendship with his noble father will have realised what a tremendous loss it was to your Lordships' House that we were without a Forbes here for so many years. On that ground, too, we welcome the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, and wish him a happy career in the seat in which he sits at the moment.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my own to the many congratulations expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Forbes? Although this was a maiden effort on his part I feel that, as a Minister, he carried out his job remarkably well, to the acceptance of all in the House, leaving nothing untouched and, so far as I can see, dealing with everything. Speaking, if I dare, for my noble friend Lord Mathers, as well as for my-self, I should like to say that we do not regard this Bill as raising a controversial issue, and we hope, therefore, that, with the necessary modification to details which may be necessary when the Bill goes through its Committee stage, we shall have it on the Statute Book without any undue delay.

If there is any note that I should like to introduce and which has not so far been introduced it is this: I was pleased and interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, say that this was not a Bill dealing with poaching or poachers, but a Bill dealing with cruelty. I myself am inclined to accept that view. Whilst no one will deny that there is shocking cruelty on the part of these poachers who do their killing in the way already described, without any attempt at selecting those animals which may perhaps be best killed, let us not forget also the cruelty inherent in leaving too great a stock of deer. The result of doing that may be that during the winter season some of the animals find themselves unable to get the necessary amount of food for survival, and die a cruel death, due to no human agency, except perhaps the difficulty of feeding them.

As I regard this Bill, I was a little amused to note that here we have the word "control" used in a manner which makes it, politically, not a dirty word. We appear to realise that here, for once, the term "control" is a very necessary one if we are to conserve the precious stock of deer that we still have—and I think that they ought to be conserved. It has already been mentioned that there is a certain conflict of interest between the deer-forest owners and the agriculturists, particularly the sheep farmers. That conflict, I feel, ought not to be ignored, because I think noble Lords will agree that within recent years there has been a change in ownership of deer forests that has not always been to the benefit of the deer forests or the deer upon them.

If it be true (I do not know whether or not it is) that there is a stock of some 100,000 or so deer, that certain areas of the country are being taken up by such things as hydro-electric schemes, afforestation, and so on, and that as a result of these necessary developments the deer are now becoming marauding deer—what are called "colonising deer "—I think it is necessary to have some kind of selective control in order to ensure that the population of deer does not encroach upon the amount of food available for sheep. It may interest noble Lords to know that recently there appeared in one newspaper a note which said: Britain eats more mutton and lamb per head of population than any other nation in the Northern Hemisphere and yet home production is only about one-third of its requirements … That was taken from a report of the Natural Resources Technical Committee on the Sheep Industry in Britain. These are matters which must not, I feel, be ignored. As for the references to greyhound racing and the need for feeding greyhounds, I was amused to read in the Maconochie Report that representatives of the Greyhound Racing Association said that any venison which their members consumed was not consumed by the greyhounds but by the patrons of greyhound racing. Some noble Lords in their credulity might believe that statement. Some of us beg leave to wonder whether it is the fact as they put it.

However, while we are all in agreement about the prime necessity for conserving and controlling the stock of deer, though not at the expense of our sheep population, when it comes to the details of the Bill I feel that there are certain matters which ought to be looked at a little more carefully. The composition of the Red Deer Commission (while I myself am offering no criticism) is, I believe, one which ought to be looked at again in case there are certain other organisations or certain groups—such as, for example, the crofters, to whom my noble friend referred—which ought also to be represented on that Commission. In regard to the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, by which the Secretary of State is given great powers, particularly in connection with the conservation of deer, one wonders whether it is true that those powers have not been exercised at all, or only insufficiently; and, if so, why. Are we to believe that the Commission will not carry out the powers which are to be given to it, or is there some special reason to account for the fact that the Secretary of State has not exercised the powers which he possesses?

The other thought that occurs to me is this. According to the Bill, any expense or outlay incurred by the Commission will be met from the taxpayers' money. This question arises: is it proper that the cost of the Commission should come from taxpayers' money, and ought it not to come from those whose assets and properties are being preserved? There are one or two other points of that kind, especially on the Schedules, that will need a little consideration. But on the whole I should like to say that if we in Scotland can have a conservation of this irreplaceable and priceless asset—in many directions, economic as well as cultural—and if we can prevent some of the abuses which shock all of us, then I think we shall all be pleased to have taken part in the promotion of this measure.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, it is gratifying to know that so many noble Lords on both sides of this House have given their full support to this Bill. We have had a most instructing and constructive debate. I shall devote most of my concluding remarks to answering some of the points that have been put to me. Before doing so, however, there are one or two general points which I should like to make. I was glad to see from the Press that both the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the National Farmers' Union of Scotland welcomed this Bill. There are, no doubt, points of detail with which they may not entirely agree, but their general support is most heartening. The co-operation of landowners and farmers and, indeed, of all interests concerned, will play a large part in ensuring the success of the Red Deer Commission, The National Farmers' Union made a statement when the Bill was published to the effect that the control of deer is largely in the interests of agriculture. I, too, am anxious that this should not be overshadowed by the understandably wide interest which is taken in the parts of the Bill dealing with the illegal or inhumane methods of killing deer.

In my opening speech I emphasised that this Bill constitutes a comprehensive approach to the deer problem. It will not rectify the problem in one day or even in one year; it is essentially a long-term policy. The provisions in Clause 7 for 'the reduction, and in some cases the extermination, of red deer do not in any way prejudice the survival of deer as a species. On the other hand, no one will dispute what the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said, that deer have become established in recent times in places where no deer previously existed—places which were not deer-forest ground. Here the deer have found refuge, as in a sanctuary, because there are no stalkers. These deer are outwith the management of herds in deer forests, and in the words of the Maconochie Committee's Report, they constitute a real menace to agriculture.

Myxomatosis has also, strangely enough, made the farmers' deer problem worse. The rough pasture surrounding the arable land is now in many cases clear of rabbits, and the deer, which used to keep off this rabbit-soiled ground, now come down on to it and so get much closer to the arable ground. I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, pointed out that the present situation is that the police are almost powerless. I was also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for supporting this Bill so warmly, as it was the noble Lord himself who did so much spadework in connection with the Bill.

Now I should like to turn to some of the questions that have been asked during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, asked whether the powers given to the Secretary of State by the Agriculture (Scotland) Act to prevent damage by deer were ever used. These powers were delegated by the Secretary of State to the agricultural executive committees, and have, in fact, never been used. Lord Mathers also raised the point whether more fencing should be carried out. I do not know whether your Lordships realise that fencing for deer costs at least 15s. a yard, and can cost considerably more than that. The noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, bowled me a very fast ball when he suggested that possibly Tanganyika and other such places might be included in some provisions of the Bill. I am sorry to say that the Bill does not even cover the Sassenach deer which are south of the Border.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, asked: Will the killing of deer be carried out by the most suitable people? I think that, in the first instance, the owner would be asked to carry out the work himself. If he could not do it, then his stalker (or, if he had no stalker, nearby stalkers) would be called in to do the work. I think the noble Viscount need have no fear, as anyone employed by the Control Commission should, in the eyes of the Commission, be experts at their job. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, doubted whether the Commission could enter land and kill deer during the close season. My Lords, this is, in actual fact, provided for in the Bill. The Control Commission can enter land and kill deer which are doing damage to agricultural or forestry land during the close season.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I would point out that that was not raised by me. I fully appreciate, and approve, that they should have that power.


I apologise to the noble Earl. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, asked whether "a gang" could consist of only two people. As the noble Lord correctly assumed, a gang could consist of only two people, because it is thought that one might do the shooting while the other is sitting in the car waiting to make a quick getaway. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, also asked whether it would be possible to make a check through carcases being sold to shops or going into cold store. I think the answer to that is that we do not want these illegal carcases to get that far. We want to prevent the carcases from being moved off the ground at all. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, asked a question as to how it was proposed to distinguish between deer forest areas and sheep areas. I agree that sheep and deer are often to be found on the same land, but we are not endeavouring in this Bill to define deer forests. It will be for the Red Deer Commission to exercise their judgment on this matter.

The noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, referred to fines for carcases and asked whether a £20 fine for a carcase was sufficient. I should like to point out to the noble Marquess that it is not just a question of a fine for the carcase but that it is also a question of the carcase being forfeited. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, brought up the point about the control of deer so that they do not compete with sheep. This is something which we must leave to the Deer Control Commission. That is one of their main functions—to advise whether agricultural or deer-stalking interests should come first.

The most important point that has been raised during the debate is, I think, the question of close seasons. Several noble Lords suggested that the close season should come in at once, while other noble Lords suggested that there should be some alteration in the dates. The Government agree with the recommendations of the joint report, which report was made by the interested organisations. I have several times referred to this report and I now do so again. The report stated quite categorically that a three-year delay is advisable so that some of the surplus deer can, be dealt with. I remind your Lordships also that, even though the Bill does not propose that the close season should be enforced until 1962, the provisions against poaching offences (which I think are very much in your Lordships' minds) will come into operation as soon as the Bill becomes law.

Then there was the question of roe deer, or sometimes the roe doe, being included in the close season. I would point out here that roe deer have a very different distribution and also different habits from the red deer, and the questions which arise from this distribution and from these different habits make the problem much more difficult. For instance, the roe live mainly in woods: and we have gone on this basis in excluding the roe from the Bill so far. We have left it to the woodland owners to co-operate with the Forestry Commission over this matter. This view was very strongly taken by the Maconochie Committee when they made their recommendations. In the light of what has been said, however, I am certainly prepared to look into this matter to see whether it would be possible to include a close season for the roe deer. At the same time, I do not think we should contemplate coupling a close season for roe deer with the existing control provisions which we are making for the red deer, as this would quite obviously divert the Control Commission from their most important task—that of dealing with the red deer.

The noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, also brought up the question whether it was desirable to use shotguns. I think the noble Lord, Lord Winster, did not like the idea of using shotguns against the red deer. Neither the Scott Henderson nor the Maconochie Committees, which both considered all the circumstances, recommended the prohibition of shotguns. We are of the opinion that farmers must be free to use shotguns to protect their crops. Red deer come down and do damage to the crops in the evening or in the early morning and that is the time to catch them, but this is a time when it is extremely difficult to make an accurate shot with a rifle. There is also the point that roe deer are invariably found in wooded areas and, as already pointed out in the debate, it might be dangerous to use a rifle in a confined area.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord that in what I said about shotguns I had in mind their use by poachers; I was not thinking about farmers.


I thank the noble Lord. Many noble Lords have expressed considerable feeling on this matter and I will certainly look into it and see whether it would be possible to make any amendment before Committee stage. There is one other fact I should like to point out about the use of shotguns—that is, that many farmers possess only shotguns. There is also the point that if red deer are raiding the crops, more often than not these crops will he found near farm steadings or roads and conceivably it might be dangerous to confine the killing of these deer to the rifle. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, who suggested that further powers might be given to stalkers or gamekeepers.


Excuse me, my Lords; I said special constables.


I apologise to the noble Earl, but I thought that he wanted powers extended to stalkers and gamekeepers. I do not think that this really applies to special constables, because special constables are enlisted for the purpose of dealing with an emergency or a riot or for training as ordinary constables and I do not think that any of these duties would cover dealing with deer poaching.


My Lords, would the noble Lord perhaps consider the tide of "game warden" to avoid that of special constable?


That is a different matter altogether. I do not know what powers the noble Lord envisages should be given to these "game wardens".


I would give them the same powers as the special constables. I was simply changing the name to avoid the technical difficulties about special constables.


My Lords, my suggestion of appointing special constables to assist the police was purely to give the police extra assistance in the widely scattered and isolated areas in the Highlands. As the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, said, it would be a precarious experiment for a policeman to go out—or even for two men to go out—to apprehend a gang; and if they had the additional comfort of one or two special constables along with them, they might feel much happier and safer and might be much more likely to succeed in their object.


My Lords, that would require a radical alteration in the laws of Scotland. In Scotland, unlike England, we are not permitted to use special constables except in cases of national emergency. I fully agree that legislation ought to be brought in to alter these powers, but, as it is, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, can do nothing more in the matter.


My Lords, it was I who suggested that local magistrates should be empowered to give stalkers the right to stop and search cars.


My Lords, I remember the case in Scotland of a constable enlisting Edinburgh University students under such power.


My Lords, have all my noble friends, in making their remarks, forgotten that this is a Second Reading debate and not a Committee stage?


I am grateful to my noble friend for letting me continue. We must not forget that it is a serious matter to think of giving special powers of arrest and search or seizure. These powers should be restricted to public servants who are subject to discipline. It was suggested that these powers would make a person comparable with a water bailiff. But water bailiffs are entirely different; they are employed by district boards, and these stalkers or game wardens, or whatever we may call them, in all probability would be people employed by private individuals. There is the added risk that if we gave powers of arrest to stalkers and game wardens, there would be even more danger of all these people becoming involved in a shooting match.

If there are any points which I have left unanswered, may I ask your Lordships' indulgence? I can assure your Lordships that nothing that has been said in this debate will be overlooked. Finally, I believe that this Bill will bring a solution of the deer problem that will satisfy farmers, landowners and sportsmen alike. Deer will be given a proper status as game. Sport in the Highlands will improve as a national asset, with increased benefit to the economy of the area. And farming, as well as forestry interests, will be protected from damage by deer, which has led to so many disputes in the past. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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