HL Deb 19 July 1963 vol 252 cc430-42

12.54 p.m.

Report of Amendments received (according to Order).


I do not know whether your Lordships would desire to start the debate on the Amendments before the adjournment in five minutes time, or whether it would be convenient now to adjourn during pleasure?


My Lords, I think if your Lordships will agree, it would probably be better to start after lunch.


My Lords, on the understanding that noble Viscount agrees, I beg to move that the Committee do adjourn during pleasure until two o'clock.

Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended at five minutes before one o'clock and resumed at two o'clock.]

Clause 3:

Unlawful weapons, etc.

3.—(1) Subject to sections 10 and 11 of this Act, if any person— (d) uses, for the purpose of killing any deer, any knife or similar instrument, without humane pre-stunning of the animal; he shall be guilty of an offence.

VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD moved, in subsection (1), to leave out paragraph (d). The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in rising to move this Amendment, I will not weary your Lordships by going over all the old ground again. In moving to delete sub-paragraph (d) on page 2, line 23, I do so entirely on humanitarian grounds. In my speech on Second Reading and in my remarks during the Committee stage I pointed out that the Scott Henderson Committee had recommended that, while the humane killer and the gun were always to be used, there were certain circumstances in which one had to use the knife. For instance, the case could arise where a man runs his car into a deer. One does not carry a gun or humane killer in one's car, but one might have a knife available, and in that case one would, of coarse, use the knife.

As to the effect of this Bill on stag hunting on Exmoor, I would point out that there are instances where a humane killer or a gun are not available. One could not always use a gun there because there are people about; nor could one always use a humane killer, because if it is to be used the animal has to be very passive. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will support this Amendment, because under this Bill the knife will be used only in exceptional circumstances, for humane reasons. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 23, leave out sub-paragraph (d).—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)


My Lords, I am reluctantly obliged to support the noble Viscount, and if a Division were taken I would vote against my previous decision. The real reason for that is not that I am in any way in disagreement with what I did before, but because, if these Amendments in your Lordships' House to-day are not agreed to, the whole Bill will be lost. This is a case in which it is very much better to get three-quarters of a loaf rather than no bread at all. Even those who have been strongest in pushing forward the Amendments which it is now proposed to delete will agree that the Bill is going to do a great deal of good in the reduction of cruelty. For the last quarter of a century I have been protesting against the way in which Bills have reached your Lordships' House late in the summer, when we are informed: "This is a very nice Bill; you will like it; but if you try to amend it, the Bill will be lost altogether." I am not saying in this case that this is any fault of Lord Massereene and Ferrard, but it is a most regrettable sort of procedure and it seems to me inevitable that it will be repeated year after year.

In regard to the Amendment immediately before us, no one who has seen Lord Crook's transparent honesty would imagine for a moment that he would make inaccurate statements intentionally, but there is no doubt that some of the statements he made during Committee stage were inaccurate. I strongly suspect that this is because he had been provided with information by the League Against Cruel Sports, a body of fanatics who have never scrupled to distort the truth for the purpose of obtaining their ends—namely, destruction of the historic field sports of this country. But I hope very much that the noble Lords on the Benches opposite, who have been very reasonable over the conduct of this Bill, will be prepared, however reluctantly, to accept these Amendments. And if they choose in the next Session to bring forward a Bill carrying on still further the purposes of this one, they will certainly receive, I think, considerable support from this side.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crook unfortunately cannot be here this afternoon, for a reason of which the noble Viscount will be aware. That is the fact that he has a board meeting which he must attend. That is the only reason why he is not here to resist the two Amendments in the name of the noble Viscount. In moving this Amendment, the noble Viscount really did not produce any further information or case matter in opposition to what was, I think, the undoubted will of this House on Committee stage. My noble friend's first Amendment was passed with 23 Members Content and 16 Not-Content and on the later Amendment, of course, the majority was more overwhelming.

I do not believe that there is any case at all for the Amendment which the noble Viscount has moved to-day. The stunning weapon which has been referred to, and which is in common use, is, in fact, carried by the majority of hunts. I do not believe it is a weapon from which there is any great danger, even if it had to be used in a street. It is a weapon or instrument which has a captive bolt, which does not fly out as a bullet from a gun would. But I suspect that the real reason for the noble Earl's support of the noble Viscount on this Amendment, is a fear of losing this Bill. The noble Viscount did not mention that point, but I have been hearing this all around the corridors of the House for the last two or three days. I appreciate that this is a fear which is in the minds of most noble Lords who are here this afternoon.

I agree that the Bill goes a good way towards providing some form of humanitarian protection to deer which are hunted. But there a re two aspects—the use of the knife and, of course, carted deer—on which I think it was overwhelmingly felt in the House that some amendment should be made to the Bill, to make the humanitarian side stronger than the proposers of the Bill were prepared to offer to the House. First of all, I agree there is a risk that this Bill might be lost. I do not believe, if these two Amendments were introduced in another place even in the short time left, that the other place would resist them on grounds of principle. I do not believe there would be any divergence of view between this House and the other place upon the merits of the Amendments.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting him, I think there is a grave danger that the promoters of the Bill will not be prepared to go on with it.


Now we are really getting down to the crux of the issue. It was suggested that the difficulty would be the other place, on a question of time. That was my understanding—that it was a question of time.


Both matters come into it.


Both matters; but, so far as I am concerned, listening to what has been going on in the corridors of this House, it was the problem of time: that if your Lordships' House were to amend the Bill and were to send it to another place there would not be time for consideration of those Amendments.


My Lords, I understood it was a question of time. I have always understood that.


I will deal with that in a moment; but I think there is point in what the noble Earl has said—and this is quite a different reason: that the promoters of the Bill themselves will not accept the view of your Lordships' House in Committee on two matters, in support of which there was a decided opinion. Therefore, there is on this issue a clash between the opinion of the House and that of the promoters, although I should not put it in quite those strong words because we have not yet got from the noble Viscount whether that is in fact the case.

On the question of time, we have this morning amended the Matrimonial Causes Bill in two respects. It is true that those Amendments were agreed, but they could well be challenged. One of them could be regarded as controversial, and they could well be challenged by some Member in another place. There is that risk; but, my Lords, I believe, and the promoters of that particular Bill believe, that in the end the Commons will not take a view contrary to that of your Lordships' House. Now the two Amendments to this Bill that were moved during the Committee stage were not considered in another place at any stage. They are Amendments which were discussed and agreed to after a full debate; and we have no reason at this stage to believe that there would be a majority in another place opposed to them.

My feeling in this matter is that these two particular Amendments raise an issue of considerable principle. The Amendment which we are now discussing would remove from the Bill the requirement that a humane killer should be used before an animal is despatched or killed by the use of a knife. Perhaps, as the noble Viscount has said, a person whose car has run into a deer by accident may, on humanitarian grounds, use a knife. I do not believe that a magistrates' court, even though the Bill says it is an offence, would take the view, in the spirit and terms of this Bill, that an offence had been committed.

The part of the Bill which the noble Viscount wishes to take out makes it obligatory upon a hunt to carry a humane killer. We have heard—I think it was from the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue—that hunts, by and large, do carry humane killers. The Bill as it now stands would make it obligatory in every instance, in the case of a hunt, for a humane killer to be carried.


They invariably carry them now.


My Lords, it is the rule that every hunt has to carry a humane killer; even fox hunts, under the rules of the M.F.H.A.


But it is not obligatory under this Bill, or under any Act. It is not statutorily required. The noble Viscount has surely made my case and defeated his own. He has said that it is a rule of the hunt. Is it the association of hunts who say it?


The Masters of Foxhounds Association say it.


I beg your pardon; I am not "up" with the hunting fraternity. But the organisation responsible for the good behaviour and the proper sportsmanship of these hunts say it is obligatory. Therefore, if that is the case, what fear is there that the other place would oppose the Bill as it is now before us and which the noble Viscount seeks to amend? I think there is no fear of that, and I would ask the House not to accept this Amendment.


My Lords, I think there has been a good deal of misconception on this question. It was said in Committee that hunt servants carry humane killers and two if not three guns, and that these are used in preference to knives where possible. I do not know the figures regarding the occasions when knives are used, but these occasions are exceptional and occur only when the other weapons are not readily available. he is beset by hounds, to keep him waiting for the arrival of the more complicated I think it can be fairly represented that the use of the knife is humane in order to kill the stag quickly rather than, when apparatus. On the last occasion I gave an account of an incident which I remembered well; and I am certain that, despite any amount of legislation against the use of the knife, neither my father nor any other sportsman would have stood by with a knife in his pocket and seen a stag waiting for possibly ten or fifteen minutes before the complicated apparatus could arrive. I am equally certain that no bench of magistrates would have convicted in those circumstances. I represent that the ability to use the knife is a humane measure and not a cruel one, because if a humane killer or guns were available then these would be used instead.

I am most unwilling to refer to the Timberscombe affair which we discussed the other day, because the matter is sub judice and it is questionable whether we ought to have gone into the detail that we did. I would only say that the story we were given was a little more than slightly inaccurate. As a matter of fact, the magistrates who heard the case also heard a somewhat similar story and turned it down.


My Lords, if a knife is so cruel, how is it that it is allowed to be used throughout slaughterhouses in England and Wales for religious purposes? It cannot be as cruel as is suggested.


My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Viscount at this point. He is quite wrong in saying that the knife is allowed to be used throughout the country in slaughterhouses. With the sole exception of ritual slaughter by Jews and Mohammedans, it is not allowed at all.


My Lords, the animal does not mind whether it is going to be eaten by Christians, Jews or Mohammedans: it will suffer just as much.


My Lords, would not the noble Viscount agree that in that case the animal is in a particular pen, and that an expert is operating the knife? Even in this respect there are some of us in your Lordships House who have their own particular feelings, although we have not pressed this point because of the religious consequences. But there is a considerable difference, as I am sure the noble Viscount will agree, between the killing of an animal in a slaughterhouse by an expert and the slaughter of deer in the open by somebody perhaps untrained in the task.


My Lords, may I point out that we are on Report stage. I believe it is the custom of this House that on Report stage noble Lords should each speak only once.


My Lords, I voted for this Amendment on Committee stage but, without going into the alternatives of whether there is not time or whether the Promoters of the Bill will not accept it, I feel strongly that humanitarians in this House would be very foolish to kill this Bill by insisting on Amendments at this stage. I cannot go quite so far as to say that this Bill is three-quarters of a loaf, but it is certainly a good half loaf, and although I voted for this Amendment and introduced another Amendment on Committee stage, I will support those who take the view that we should not risk killing the Bill by insisting on Amendments at this stage.

2.21 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I could step into the discussion for a brief moment? I do so with considerable diffidence and I speak personally, because this is a Private Member's measure and I gave my views on the Bill and the Government's reaction on Second Reading. I should like to take this opportunity of apologising to my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for not having been here on Committee stage, but I had a longstanding and unavoidable engagement to fulfil.

I would dwell for a second on the point of substance in this Amendment. I am not a stag-hunter and my knowledge is second-hand, but I have read carefully what the Scott Henderson Committee had to say on this point and in some measure it bears out the case that my noble friend submitted to your Lordships just now. Paragraph 226 of the Report said: To use a humane killer effectively, it is necessary to place the muzzle against the animal's head, and this is not always easy, especially if the animal is a stag struggling to defend itself". I am not arguing whether or not the animal should be in that position, but when it is, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, conditions are not those of a slaughterhouse. And it may well be that in such an instance the most humane method is to use a knife, as my noble friend Lord Fortescue said. Of course, this is apart from the possible accidental cases, to which my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard alluded.

Again speaking with diffidence (because I am not a lawyer), it seems to me to be dangerous to write into a Statute something which it will be left to the courts to decide. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, argued that the courts would let off somebody who was involved in an accident and used a knife; but if the Amendment is not accepted, we shall be retaining very explicit language.

But it is not with this matter of substance that I wish mainly to deal; nor do I wish to enter the controversy between my noble friends Lord Mansfield and Lord Massereene and Ferrard on whether time or the promoters' intention is the main factor here. I feel that there is a practical issue before your Lordships at this stage. We all know that this Bill is the result of what, at the moment, is a delicately poised compromise. I cannot speak as to the promoters' intention here. It may be that if this Amendment were allowed, they would go ahead with the Bill; but, on the other hand, they might feel unable to do so. I have consulted the promoters, and I understand that it is their definite view that, if these two Amendments are not agreed to, whether or not they decide to go ahead with the Bill, there will be no chance of this Bill receiving the Royal Assent this Session.

For that reason, I hope your Lordships will pay great attention to what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has said. We know that on the merits of the case he would not like to see these paragraphs removed; but, given the facts of the position—given the stage we have reached in the Session, and the fact that this Bill is the result of a compromise—it is his advice that we should accept the Amendments to-day. I am inclined to feel, as I said on Second Reading, that this Bill, so far as it goes, is a good Bill. As to whether it represents 75 per cent. or 90 per cent. of what the humanitarians among us would like to see—and I would claim that I am not less humanitarian than others who have spoken—I would not wish to bandy words. I think we all agree that pit is a good Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will reflect carefully before taking action which, in the light of the advice I have received, would seriously jeopardise it.


My Lords, I should like to say something about the two considerations before your Lordships in deciding whether or not to support these Amendments. I make these observations because I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Huntingdon, who is willing not to move the Amendments that he has on the Marshalled List if your Lordships think fit to delete the Amendments that were made on the Committee stage, which is the proposal of the noble Viscount who has put down two Amendments at this stage of the Bill. The first consideration is clearly the merits of the Amendment we are now discussing and the following Amendment. On the merits of the Amendments, your Lordships are divided. Your Lordships opposed the noble Viscount in Committee, and I must say that, personally, I am in sympathy with my noble friend Lord Shepherd and my noble friend Lord Crook, who introduced the two Amendments during the Committee stage, and who succeeded in getting the support of your Lordships in the Lobby.

The other consideration is clearly the prospects of the Bill. I am satisfied, from what I have heard, that if any Amendment were put in the Bill which gave rise to discussion or controversy in another place the Bill would be lost. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that this is a useful Bill. It is the first Bill to protect deer in England and Wales, in that it provides a close season and removes certain methods of taking deer which are undoubtedly cruel, and it would be of real value if it were to reach the Statute Book. To my mind, the primary consideration—and I know that my noble friend Lord Huntingdon takes the same view—is to get the Bill through during this Session. For that reason, both my noble friend and I believe that, although these provisions which it is proposed to delete were both desirable on the Committee stage, and are equally desirable now, it is better to accept the proposal of the noble Viscount and allow them to be struck out than take a risk, which is almost a certainty, that the Bill will be lost.

I agree with the noble Earl that it is a complaint we make every year, and with entire justification, that Bills are brought before us at a stage when it is too late to amend them. This is a diffi- culty which cannot be remedied with Private Members' Bills, but can be remedied in the case of Government Bills. I think the Government should consider seriously carrying Bills from one Session to another; it has been considered in the past, but I think it should be considered in the light of the pressure of work we are having at the end of this Session. In view of the paramount importance of getting this Bill on to the Statute Book, I hope your Lordships will decide to follow the advice that has been given by the noble Viscount the promoter of the Bill in this House, and allow the major Amendments to be deleted.


My Lords, may I with leave of the House—


Order, order!


My Lords, I wish to explain this. I shall seek to have the Amendment negatived because I could not myself support it, but I will not press it to a Division. I feel I should say that in case there should be some misunderstanding, having myself called opposition to the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I do not know whether your Lordships wish me to speak on this Amendment. I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his remarks, and I would therefore beg leave to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 32, leave out sub-paragraph (c).—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)


My Lords, I think I should say a word or two about this Amendment. It does not seem to me to fall into the same category as the Amendment which has just been discussed by your Lordships. I have a great interest in establishing the Bill as it now stands in regard to this matter. This is a purely local affair, affecting the stag-hounds in Norfolk. I think I can speak for Norfolk when I say that we in Norfolk think that this particular practice as adopted by the staghounds should cease. It has been said that if the Bill goes through or not, this hunt will gradually die out. At the present time, it is the only hunt in the country which adopts the method to which we have referred. For I am certain, with all due respect to other I that reason, I think it is a local matter, and Norfolk Members who may be here at the moment, that the whole of the county is against the practice adopted by this hunt, and we should like to see it abolished. It can be abolished under this Bill if this Amendment moved in Committee stands. I cannot for the life of me see the Bill falling merely on this point. Therefore, I hope the noble Viscount will not press his Amendment and will leave the Bill, so far as this subsection is concerned, as it stands at the moment.


My Lords, might I put the noble Lord's mind at rest regarding the carted deer? Under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, a carted deer is covered because he is a captive, semi-domesticated animal. In Section 1 it says: If any person— (a) shall cruelly beat, kick, ill treat, override, overdrive, overload, torture infuriate, or terrify any animal "— under this section he shall be guilty of an offence. It was the noble Lord, Lord Crook, I think, who complained of the deer being taken to the meet in trailers and trucks and bumped about the roads. Section 1(1)(b) says: If any person shall convey or carry, or cause or procure, … or, being the owner, permit to be conveyed or carried, any animal in such a manner or position as to cause that animal any unnecessary suffering; … he shall be guilty of an offence". If you have any instance of cruelty regarding carted deer you can abide by that Act and have an action in the courts. Carted deer are completely safeguarded under that Act.

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to reply to some of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and also to some of the more wrongheaded ones from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. In regard to the justification for the promoters, if they are prepared so to withdraw this Bill, I would say that surely if a Bill goes so far beyond the intention of its promoters that it is no longer acceptable, then there is nothing wrong in their doing so. A few days ago, owing to the kindness of your Lordships, I was able to get my Sale of Dead Wild Geese Prohibition Bill through; but had your Lordships been pleased to alter that Bill so that it became the Sale of Dead Wild Geese and Duck Prohibition Bill, and made the sale of dead duck also illegal, I should not have proceeded with the measure because it would have gone far beyond what I intended. Therefore, if the promoters did not see fit to go on with the Bill because it contained something obnoxious to them, I do not think they could be blamed.

With regard to the point concerning time, I do not think anyone will gainsay that if the Government realise, as they would realise, that the renewed discussion on this Bill in another place would mean an acerbitous debate lasting for several hours, the Bill, in view of the crowded condition of the Government programme, would get no time at all for consideration and would die. As I and other noble Lords have said, this is a valuable Bill and we want to get it through, however much it falls short of the requirements of certain noble Lords on the far side and possibly even on this side of the House, too. It is for that reason that I would ask your Lordships not to oppose this Amendment. I voted for the substance of the paragraph at the Committee stage and I have not the slightest regret for so doing, and I would do so again. I understand that my attitude has not met with the approval of certain sporting bodies, but, so far as I am concerned, that does not matter one little bit. I supported the original Amendment, and I am now, with the greatest reluctance, obliged to support its deletion in order that we may not lose this valuable Bill.


I would just rise to say that, like the noble Earl, we on this side—although I should not really say "on this side" because the feeling in Committee was right round the House and there was no kind of Party feeling—take the view that in the circumstances which have been put to us this afternoon we shall ask for the Amendment to be negatived, but we will do our best to come back to this matter in the next Session.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.