HL Deb 19 January 1967 vol 279 cc296-316

7.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. We now turn from one form of land use to a slightly different form of land use, which, if not quite so important, many of us may find easier to understand. I his is a simple Bill and it is designed to be entirely non-controversial. It is also designed to cover the three points which the Red Deer Commission, in paragraph 23 of their Annual Report for 1965, said they would like to be amended in the original Deer (Scotland) Act 1959.

Clause 1 of my Bill gives the Red Deer Commission the right of entry for census purposes. The Commission consider, and I think most noble Lords will agree with them, that censuses are very important, both for the control and for the conservation of red deer in Scotland. It is obvious why they are so important for control, and it is also fairly obvious why they are so important for conservation. At any rate, I have been fascinated by the findings of the Nature Conservancy on the Island of Rhum, and I think much of the interest of their findings is due to the fact that they take extremely accurate censuses every year.

It would therefore be a pity if, owing to the hostility of one particular landowner, the census in a certain area of the mainland of Scotland was incomplete. Accordingly, Clause I of my Bill gives the Red Deer Commission the right to enter upon land for the purpose of taking censuses. Having first, of course, tried to get the agreement of the owner concerned, and if he or she will not agree, the Commission then have to give him a fortnight's notice and state the period during which they will be entering on the land for the purpose of the census; and this period cannot exceed one month. It is obviously to the advantage of all concerned to try to get agreement, if at all possible. It is worth noting that under Clause 15 of the Deer (Scotland) Act the Commission already have the right to enter land for the purposes of control schemes and to deal with marauders. It is thought, but it is not sure, that this might cover also the taking of censuses, and this clause is included purely to make sure that this is so.

Now I should like to move on to Clause 2 of the Bill. The first half just re-writes Section 33(2) of the Deer (Scotland) Act in such a way that officers or servants of the Red Deer Commission may kill marauding deer at night. Under the original Deer (Scotland) Act the only people allowed to kill marauding deer at night on enclosed land—and one is not allowed to kill deer at night on any other land—were the occupiers of the land concerned. This has led to difficulties where the occupier is either too old or infirm or in some other way incapacitated, or possibly not there at that particular moment to be able to kill marauding deer at night; and if we accept the fact—and this was discussed at great length in the 1959 Bill—that it is desirable for the occupier to have this right, I think probably this small extension of the right will not do any harm and might do a lot of good.

There are only seven stalkers of the Red Deer Commission, and I think it is unlikely that any of the Commissioners themselves would be asked by any occupier to kill marauding deer at night on any enclosed land. The advantage, in my opinion, of allowing the stalkers of the Red Deer Commission to do this would be that they would do it safely, whereas it is by no means sure that all occupiers would do it safely. The Commission's stalkers would minimise the cruelty concerned; they are much more likely to kill the deer outright than the average occupier, such as your Lordships, who, let us face it, is not anything like so accurate with a rifle, even with telescopic sights, as the stalkers of the Red Deer Commission. They have been trained; they get a lot of practice, and it would be much more certain that they would kill the deer actually doing the marauding, since they, would be in the enclosed ground at the time, whereas by the following day, when they would be allowed under the 1959 Act to kill them, the deer might well be out of the enclosed ground and have joined up with a lot of other deer on the hill. Once that has happened, it is extremely difficult to decide which deer are actually doing the marauding, and which are entirely innocent and have spent the night on the hill where they should be.

Subsection (3)(a) of Clause 2 of the Bill simply re-enacts Section 33(3) of the Deer (Scotland) Act and introduces nothing new. Paragraph (b) of subsection (3) allows the Secretary of State to authorise people to take or kill for scientific purposes any deer out of season. The Red Deer Commission in their Report ask that they should be given this power so far as red deer are concerned, but I think it is only logical, now that we have the imposition of the Deer (Close Season) (Scotland) Order 1966 in operation (which gives close seasons to fallow deer, sitka deer and roe does), that it should also be possible for these forms of deer to be taken out of season for scientific purposes. That is why in the Bill the Secretary of State and not the Red Deer Commission is given this power.

One reason that springs to mind why the Secretary of State may make use of this power is if some research is required into the feeding habits of deer. This might easily suggest ways whereby marauding deer could be considerably reduced—by giving them licks or something like that out on the hill. Possibly the research might be to see whether deer carry certain diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, which seems much in the news at the moment. Incidentally, the Secretary of State already has this power, and his Department issues licences in regard to some other animals, such as seals, and certain birds. I hope that I have explained clearly the purposes of this short Bill, and that your Lordships will agree they are desirable purposes and will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

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

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should be grateful to your Lordships if you would be kind enough to afford me the indulgence that you give to those who have the honour to make their maiden speech in your Lordships' House. While in principle I wish to support the noble Duke's Bill, and would commend it to your Lordships' consideration, there are two points on it that I should like to raise. I feel that if they were included in the Bill it would be much better, and certainly more complete.

The first point concerns a requirement that censuses, which have already been referred to by the noble Duke, should be carried out annually by 'the Red Deer Commission in any area that is subject to a controlled scheme. The reason for this is that in any controlled area the Commission have laid down as a guide that the total number of red deer to be culled per year should be one-sixth of the numbers of stags and hinds in that particular area or forest. They feel that if owners do this voluntarily the numbers of red deer in Scotland will probably be kept under reasonable control. It is impossible for any owner to do this at present, to satisfy both the requirement of the Red Deer Commission and also that for good deer management, which is equally important, because officially the number of deer that he may have in his deer forest is not known.

The Red Deer Commission have indicated to me that they are not prepared to accept an owner's census report of his particular deer forest. I am not quite sure why that is. It may be that they think that owners, as interested parties, might try to "cook the books". But, whatever the reason, it is logical that the Commission themselves must take an annual census to ascertain the correct numbers of deer to be culled in any one season in any one controlled area. The Commission may say; "We have not enough men for the job", but that does not seem to be a good argument. The Commission have been put into being; they are in existence, and they are doing a good job of work. It seems a pity to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar: they should get some more men. It will not cost all that much, I hope. If a job is to be done, it must be done properly. If an annual census is to be taken and more men are required for it, then I feel that the Commission ought to be allowed to employ more men.

The second point I should like to raise concerns the shooting of marauding deer, in accordance with Section 6 of the principal Act. While the need for this is understandable, though none the less regrettable, it is important that some safeguard is created to ensure that these noble beasts do not suffer more than is absolutely necessary. At present, a great deal of suffering is caused. I have seen the results of such suffering. They are caused mainly by the use of the wrong weapon. I have here a letter from the British Deer Society, written on January 8, so it is quite up to date, from which it is perfectly clear what the British Deer Society feel about this particular point. I should like to refer to the letter. The Scottish Secretary writes: My Council feel strongly that the killing of deer in Scotland by any type of weapon is most unsatisfactory, and they feel that the relevant Scottish law should be amended to prohibit the use of certain weapons, with possible adjustments. Basically, what it boils down to is that, for red deer, they do not recommend the use of a rifle of a calibre of less than 0.240 ins., with a smaller one for various other types of deer. But I am dealing solely with red deer this evening. They do not favour the use of any smooth-bore gun, shotgun, or anything like that; nor an air-gun, an air rifle or an air pistol. For ammunition they would like to see only bullets with a soft or a hollow nose being used. That is quite fair. If your Lordships could see the horrifying effects on beasts that have been shot at with shot-guns and small-calibre rifles and other similar weapons, equally ineffectual, you would understand my desire that some provision should be made in this Bill to incorporate the requirements and requests of the British Deer Society.

I understand the argument that many farmers in Scotland who suffer badly, as I readily admit, from marauding deer may not possess the necessary weapons should this requirement he included in the Bill, but I think that this argument cannot hold much water. Surely the answer is that they must go and get the right weapons. We cannot, and should not, allow farmers who have their crops to protect, or the Forestry Commission who have to protect their young trees and plantations, to be affected by the rather weak argument: "I have not the right weapon; therefore it does not matter. "This just is not good enough, and I am keen to see that a provision on the lines I have suggested is incorporated in the Bill. I should be grateful, therefore, if the Government would be kind enough to give my suggestions their sympathetic consideration. I propose to table these Amendments for further discussion in Committee.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, my first duty is the pleasant one of congratulating the noble Viscount on his maiden speech. We both have one thing in common, that is, that we are a type of hybrid in that we both possess Irish and United Kingdom Peerages. We also have in common a great love of red deer, and I agree with a great deal of what the noble Viscount has said. I hope that he will make many more speeches on subjects in which he is interested, which I am sure range far and wide, and that he will not confine his speeches only to the subject of deer.

I have no objection to this small Bill. The only regret I have is that it does not include a great many measures that I should like to see it contain, but I am sure your Lordships will be glad to hear that I do not propose to recount them all to-night. Certainly nobody can object to Clause 1. I have never heard of a landowner in the Highlands who has objected to the Red Deer Control coming on to his land to take a census, although there may have been one or two who have objected. It is, of course, essential that if a red deer census is to be taken the Commission should not be thwarted by any landowner. Clause 2(3)(b) authorises the Secretary of State in writing to take deer for scientific purposes, and one cannot object to that.

I do not object to the other provisions of Clause 2, which raises the rather controversial subject of night shooting which, of course, is cruel, and can also be dangerous to human beings. Section 33 of the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 was rather badly drafted in that respect. Although it allowed the occupier to shoot deer by night on enclosed land, it did not take into consideration the question that the occupier might be a cripple or an old lady who might be incapable of performance of these provisions. I agree that Clause 2 of the Bill puts this matter right, in that the occupier can delegate this duty, and there is no reason why he should not delegate this power to the Deer Commission. The Deer Control are supposed to be experts with rifles. I suppose there are occasions where this has not been the case, but then one always has exceptions to every rule. I am sure that the Red Deer Commission do their best to ensure that the people whom they employ are expert marksmen.

There are one or two remarks I should like to make about night shooting from the cruelty angle. As to the use of firearms, the calibre of a firearm is controlled under the Deer (England) Act 1963. I hope that at some time the Government will bring in some similar Act, or will amend the present Acts, to ban the shooting of deer by firearms such as shotguns and small calibre rifles, because this is extremely cruel, especially when it takes place by night. The other thing I should like to see is a restriction that only one rifle should be allowed out in any one confined area, otherwise it can be dangerous to human beings; and a telescopic sight ought always to be used and a spotlight carried. If one has a spotlight one can hold deer in the beam. The other thing that also ought to be done on this matter of night shooting is that a person who embarks on it ought to have a trained sheep dog or hound to track down the deer if it is wounded. Under the existing Deer (Scotland) Act, so far as I remember its provisions, one is not allowed to follow deer with a hound or dog. I think this should be rectified as applying to wounded deer.

The other matter I should like to raise is the sale of venison out of season. There are various views on this matter, and I understand the point of view of the National Farmers' Union. When the occupier shoots out of season venison which is marauding on enclosed land, he presumably likes to get the money for the sale of the carcase, but if one sells deer out of season it does the venison export trade harm. Deer out of season are in very bad condition, and we now have a very good export trade to Germany. I am sure that the police would be far happier if dealers were licensed to sell venison, as is done on the Continent. I have often shot in Germany and in Scandinavia, and I know that venison cannot be sold out of season in those countries. Every carcase has to be tagged. In Germany the Forstmeister, who is in control of the various regions, issues so many tags for the number of deer which it is desired should be shot. These carcases are then tagged, and the dealer who buys them cannot then take off the tag and send it to a friend of his and put it on another carcase, because the tags cannot be used again. They are rather like the tags used in the dairy trade; that once used they cannot be used again. I should like the Red Deer Commission to issue these tags to proprietors and occupiers who desire to shoot marauding deer. I shall no doubt go further into this matter at a later stage of proceedings on the Bill.

There is another question which I should like to raise, and that is the question of the definition of "enclosed land". It is really very loose. I have known instances—and I am quite sure that others of your Lordships who have experience of deer know of similar instances—where farmers go up into the hills, lime part of the heather and plough it up. They sow a very bad crop of rape and, perhaps, they put a few old fence-posts around and one strand of wire. Then, of course, if any deer comes near, they telephone the Red Deer Commission straight away and down they come, who then have an excuse to follow so-called marauding deer. We really ought, somehow, to try to tighten up the definition of "enclosed land".

I have also known instances where tenant-occupiers have deliberately made holes in the deer fence to allow in the deer in order to shoot them for commercial gain. I do not say a great number do that, but I have certainly known some do so. I realise that the Government are inclined to think of all tenants as angels, and of all landowners as devils. But the boot is sometimes on the other foot.

That is really all I want to say. I should like to end by saying that I believe that Her Majesty's Government, and previous Conservative Governments, and their advisers, have not fully realised the economic possibilities of the red deer in the Highlands. To-day, especially, I find that one can get very big stalking rents if one's estate is managed properly and the deer are properly controlled. One can also sell the carcases for extremely attractive prices. I was obtaining far more per pound for my venison than I was for my lambs this autumn. Therefore, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to take seriously this question of the farming and ranching of deer, and the encouragement of deer in the right areas, because I am quite sure that in certain areas of the Highlands it has a very big future.

I should like to congratulate the noble Duke on the way in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I shall probably be putting down a few Amendments regarding the sale of venison out of season, but apart from that I am quite happy with the present Bill. However, as I say, it is a great pity that it does not contain many other improvements.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I also should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mount garret, and I agree with a great deal of what he said. It will be remembered that the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 owed its existence to co-operation between the Scottish National Farmers' Union, the Blackfaced Sheep Breeders' Society, the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the British Field Sports Society, and that that Act actually brought into existence the Red Deer Commission. It is surprising, therefore, that eight years later the Red Deer Commission, as the "child" of these four bodies, should have sought additional powers for itself without even consulting the bodies which set it up originally. The result is that the Bill now presented does not find favour in certain quarters, and covers only a small number of the amendments which have been found desirable as a result of eight years operation of the Deer (Scotland) Act. Thus, it is the greatest pity that no attempt has been made to get a comprehensive and agreed Amendment Bill before this particular Bill was submitted.

Possibly one of the most important things that has come to light as a result of the establishment of the Red Deer Commission is that the amount of marauding done by red deer is comparatively small compared to that expected following the outcry which took place prior to the 1959 Act. Indeed, there is as average of less than six cases of marauding reported to the Red Deer Commission each month. The pendulum is at last swinging, and at last people are beginning to realise that red deer in this country are vermin only when they get into the wrong places, and that in the vast majority of their habitat they are a national asset.

It is difficult to get an accurate figure of the total venison sales in Scotland, but the figure has been conservatively estimated by the trade at no less than £420,000 per year—a very substantial sum. Much the largest proportion of this sum is earned from exports to the Continent, and therefore it is a very important item in the Highlands economy. Furthermore, from the national aspect, the stalking rents amount to substantial sums; and from the public aspect the local authorities are drawing not less than £40,000 per year from stalking rates.

The red deer are also responsible for keeping in employment many men in the remoter areas of Scotland. The stag has a tourist attraction. At least one hotel has lured Continental sportsmen to the Highlands and is charging them £50 per stag. This is not surprising when the German is prepared to pay in his own country £100 for a stag. There may well be further developments on this line, and it is important, therefore, that the red deer should be kept at their maximum numbers, compatible with the well-being of the animal, in the areas where they are an asset. But they must, of course, be properly controlled in the areas where they are doing damage.

In New Zealand they are treated entirely as vermin, and the New Zealand Government are subsidising their slaughter. Consequently, the New Zealander is happy to get whatever he can for his venison, and the New Zealand Government are prepared to send venison in Government-subsidised refrigerated ships to Europe. There is a grave risk of New Zealand venison undercutting our Highland exports to the Continent, with a consequent loss of this £420,000 of Highland income. At the present time, Scottish venison is preferred to the New Zealand venison on the grounds of quality, but it is most important that the present reputation of Scottish venison should not be damaged by the export of a comparatively small quantity of bad meat.

About ten days after a stag has been with hinds, his carcase has deteriorated very markedly, and such meat as is left on him has become tough and strong-tasting. It is therefore important that out-of-season stag venison be removed from the market. This would also, of course, have the desired effect of removing the temptation for the unnecessary killing of a national asset.

My noble friend has also referred to allowing deer into fields to kill them. I know of one particular case where a fence was deliberately left open, and the deer were fed into a rape field, and no less than two lorry-loads of deer were sent away the following morning, mostly out-of-season stags. Last year a young boy of eleven was bragging that he had killed 26 stags during his Christmas holidays. This is quite unnecessary and must be stopped.

I must make it clear that I am not in any way suggesting that deer which are doing damage should not be killed, if there is no other reasonable method of protecting a crop; nor am I suggesting that a forester or farmer who suffers unavoidable damage should not be compensated. But we have here a problem which must be very closely studied, and a position which is far from satisfactory at the present time. The Red Deer Commission have suggested the licensing of venison dealers as a means of control. This might help to a small degree, but it would not, by itself, be sufficient. In any case, this is probably not the Bill into which to introduce such a scheme, which would mean an amendment to the Game dealers Licensing Act 1831.

There is also the point that if one kills an old milk-hind, one must, to avoid cruelty, kill her calf. But if that is done there is a 50–50 chance that the calf will be a stag calf; and if one kills a stag calf one is then killing a stag out of season. Here is a quite simple Amendment which must be agreed to by everyone and which should have ben incorporated in any Deer (Amendment) Act. It is therefore to be hoped that sufficient time will elapse between this Second Reading and the Committee stage to permit all the bodies concerned to get together and agree upon Amendments to my noble friend's Bill, so that the Deer Act will be suitably amended and may last for a further period of years without further amendment. But, my Lords, time is short if any Bill is to pass through all its stages before the end of this Session, and it is therefore important that all the bodies concerned should get together as soon as possible and discuss this matter in detail to try to agree on Amendments to the Bill.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, although I am several speakers behind him, I feel that I must offer my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret. Having known his father as a well-known deer stalker, and as one very interested in deer forests and stalking, I was delighted to see his son here this afternoon to give us the benefit of his views. I should also like to congratulate the noble Duke on moving the Second Reading of this little Bill—although, of course, if it gets its Second Reading and the Amendments proposed by some of the experts who have already spoken are moved and carried, it may emerge almost as long as the Bill to which we have recently given a Third Reading, which had, I think, 189 pages.

I must declare my interest, as I am an ex-deer stalker. I shot my first stag nearly 50 years ago, and I have shot many since. I had better not admit how many because that might be rather conceited of me. I was very interested in the ownership of deer forests until 1954, and I welcome the Bill proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, who has a great experience of owning forests himself and of administering them—and, if I may say so, of administering them very well.

We have heard remarks on the prices of venison. In order to assure the noble Lord, Lord Burton, how lucky he is now, may I tell him that I remember selling stags in 1932 at 15s. a head, and also selling lambs—certainly what are called shott lambs; that is, those lambs which would have died in the winter if they had not been sold—at 2s. 6d. a head. Of course, we are in a period of inflation at the present time, but I think the deer forest owners—and I parted with mine in 1954—are much luckier than I was in those days. I must admit that during the war all my stags went down to the Connaught Rooms, and I believe that many masons fed upon them very satisfactorily in those days.

I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government if they would be good enough to encourage the noble Duke to go on with his Bill because, bearing in mind the 1959 Act, on which I remember moving an Amendment and, with the help of Lord Lovat, defeating the then Government, I think certain Amendments might be passed to the advantage of the deer industry (if I might call it that) in Scotland, as well as Amendments to prevent venison being sold out of season and stags being shot by unauthorised poachers, which very often entails a great deal of cruelty. With those few words, I should like to say how much I congratulate the noble Duke, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to support the Second Reading of this Bill.

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, I have practically no experience of shooting red deer in this country, but I have had experience of big game elsewhere. I should like to congratulate the noble Duke on this Bill, and I personally support it very much in the form in which it is. I feel, from what the noble Lords, Lord Burton and Lord Brocket, have said, that there may be a number of ways in which the existing legislation ought to be amended in a fairly extensive way, but this will mean delay. And here is a simple, straightforward measure which I believe we should accept as it stands; or nearly so.

I have two comments to make on the speeches of the two noble Viscounts. First, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, on his speech, and to refer to firearms. In my experience, particularly at night, the 12-bore loaded with the lethal ball can be an extremely effective and merciful weapon, if properly handled, so I would not go all the way with him in saying that shooting with a 12-bore should be forbidden, so long as it is used with a properly made spherical ball. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, mentioned the question of venison and stalking. Surely, the remedy there is that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Burton; namely, an amendment of the Game Licensing Act. If venison could be brought within the scope of that Act, that would go a long way towards impairing the ability of poachers to dispose of their illegal game.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in extending congratulations to the noble Duke for the way in which he moved this Bill. I must admit that I was tremendously surprised at the amount of wit he was able to introduce into so unlikely a subject. I must also congratulate him on the general felicity with which he moved the Second Reading, and on the commendable brevity with which he managed to cover the whole range of the Bill.

I would also congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, on his maiden speech. I suppose that it is almost without exception that maiden speakers are told how well they have spoken, and are encouraged to speak often, although not necessarily encouraged to speak at length. I think that in this case it is more than a formality that we say that to the noble Viscount, and I personally hope that I shall have the benefit of many of his contributions on Scottish affairs, notwithstanding his Irish Peerage. Then (although I do not think he is with us at the moment) I feel that I ought also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burton, on what he said—not necessarily because I agree with it all, but because I admire the fact that he can compress into seven minutes about as much as anybody else could say in twelve, because of the speed at which he speaks, yet managing to keep every word quite distinct. I am quite certain that if we could all imitate his style we could say just as much as is said now in this House and still get home at least an hour or two hours earlier on any given day.

I think the noble Duke must feel satisfied with the Bill which he has presented, in one sense, at any rate: that no one has offered serious criticism of its content. And I do not think he is in the slightest danger of being presented at a subsequent stage with an Amendment to delete any of the provisions which he has inserted. That is certainly an experience which few Ministers are able to lay to their credit: Amendments are as often directed to taking something out of a Bill as to putting something else into it.

As the noble Duke said, the subjects which he has chosen as the content of the Bill figure in the Annual Report for 1965 of the Red Deer Commission. I am quite certain that they were not included because these were the only things which they thought might be suitable as amendments of the 1959 Act. I am sure they were chosen as matters which were now of urgency and which it was almost certain would not be controversial. These are necessary qualities for a Private Member's Bill, particularly if it is to get through another place. There would be no difficulty in adding some of the other items which have been raised to-day, some of which are obviously suitable for inclusion in a Deer Bill which is a Government Bill, and which might include controversial items if the Government were convinced that this was the right thing to do.

As to the other amendment, the amendment about venison out of season, I quite honestly think there is a great deal of merit in what has been said on that subject, but I am not at this stage persuaded that it is a suitable item for inclusion in a Bill of this kind. There may well be other opportunities, much more suitable ones, to legislate on that subject, but in saying so I do not in any way wish to diminish the importance of this aspect. I think we should be well-advised at the next stage, in considering possible Amendments to the Bill, to keep in the forefront all the time the consideration that the Bill must remain a non-controversial Bill, likely to command the support of all those people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, were responsible for the foundation of the Red Deer Commission.

Finally, my Lords, I would say that I think my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would wish me to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work which has been done by the Commission during the seven years they have been in existence. I think it could truthfully be said that the setting up of the Commission was perhaps the first comprehensive attempt to deal with a problem which has been the subject of controversy for more than two centuries. It says a great deal for the Commission and their small staff that, as they were able to say in their last Annual Report, while they do not claim to have solved the deer problem, they have taken some of the heat out of it, notwithstanding the many different interests involved. I am certain that all who are familiar with the work of the Commission will endorse this statement. Having said all that, I am able to assure the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, and others that Her Majesty's Government are very happy at the content of this Bill and will willingly give it their support.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords for the general support they have given my Bill, even if, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, they seemed strong in their desires to add to the Bill rather than to subtract from it. Another reason (which he did not mention) why I hope this is not done to any great extent is that at the moment the Bill fits nicely in four pages and costs 8d. If it had anything added it would presumably have to go into eight pages and would cost a shilling, and the Prices and Incomes Board might have to be asked about it. Nevertheless, I reckon that by our Amendments on the previous Bill this afternoon, we shall even then have saved about five shillings. But, seriously, my Lords, for the reasons stated by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I hope that any Amendments which are put into this Bill will be strictly non-controversial.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend, Lord Mountgarret, on his extremely interesting maiden speech. I might say that I once failed to congratulate a maiden speaker who spoke just before me. For once this House was running before its scheduled time, or at any rate earlier than I had been told would be the time when I should be speaking. I arrived just as a speaker was sitting down, and was told by the clerk on the door that I was the next speaker on the list. I rushed in, apologised for arriving late, made my speech, and was then told that it was lucky that I had arrived late or I would have congratulated the previous speaker, and he did not deserve it. I can assure my noble friend that my congratulations are most sincere, and I hope he will speak again on many subjects, particularly those connected with Scotland.

Perhaps I ought to apologise for not having declared an interest at the start of my speech, because at one time we were very interest-conscious; but we seem to have dropped that a bit. None the less, I think it is a good idea to do so, and I should like to apologise for my omission. May I say that my noble friend Lord Burton has apologised to me personally for having had to rush off; there is only one train to Inverness and it leaves Euston at 8.20, and he felt he would not like to risk hearing the rest of us out.

My noble friend Lord Mountgarret raised the question of an annual census in controlled areas. I cannot, of course, answer for the Red Deer Commission, but I am sure they will take note of what he has said. This seems to me to be essentially something which one cannot write into an Act of Parliament. There may be many technical reasons why they could not carry out a census every year, but I am sure they will take note of what my noble friend has said and, where it is possible, will take an annual census. My noble friend and several other speakers spoke about the limitation on weapons. When we reach the Committee stage of the Bill I shall probably have to resist any Amendment on those lines, although I entirely agree with all speakers that the use of unsuitable cartridges in shotguns causes great and unnecessary cruelty to the deer. Unfortunately, one cannot get the agreement of all the parties concerned about this matter, and I am convinced that were some provision on those lines inserted, it might result in wrecking the Bill in the Commons. All I can say is that there is a Bill called the Criminal Justice Bill coming up which, presumably, will reach us quite soon. That Bill is all about shotguns, rifles and such things, and as it is a Government Bill perhaps noble Lords who feel strongly on the subject might consider inserting Amendments in it. Then it would be up to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to resist them, and not me.

My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard also spoke about weapons and the danger of night shooting. I agree that there is a great danger in night shooting, and I think this is one good reason why the Red Deer Commission stalkers should have the power to undertake night shooting in enclosed areas. I was rather surprised when the noble Viscount said he thought there ought to be an Amendment to limit rifles to—so far as I could make out—one to each forest. This seems to me an unwarranted interference with the rights of the forest owner, who presumably knows how many—


No, my Lords, I meant to one field, or to one enclosure. We do not want to have three or four people with rifles going into an area of ten acres. That would be highly dangerous at night.


My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend; I did not realise that he meant that this applied only at night. I quite agree with him. But there are, probably, at the most two or three people, because of the limitation on occupiers, and all the Commission stalkers. Even if this Bill is passed, there will be only one practical person who has the right to shoot at night in these enclosed spaces. My noble friend was also worried about the fact that, as he read the original Act, one could not follow up a wounded deer and kill it by any means other than with a rifle. I think that if he looks at Section 33(1) of the principal Act he will find that it covers this point. Once a deer has been wounded, or is diseased, it can be despatched in the most efficient way and in the best way to hand. I remember many discussions on this clause when the original legislation was going through its various stages, and one of the main reasons for inserting this provision was that a deer might have been hit by a motor car and be severely injured. The driver might not be carrying a shotgun or a rifle in his car, and the best way to deal with the animal would be to hit it over the head with a car jack. I think this section of the principal Act will cover all the points about which my noble friend was worried.

My noble friend Lord Burton said that the Red Deer Commission did not consult the bodies which were its parents before sponsoring this Bill or suggesting that a Bill should be introduced on these lines. I think my noble friend was being slightly unfair about this, because the Red Deer Commission has representatives of all these bodies on it, and I should have thought that on matters such as this the Commission could presume that the representatives were speaking for their sponsors. If this were not the case, it would seem to me to raise very great difficulties about ever trying to get any agreed legislation in this country; so I think that point was a little unfair. My noble friend also brought forward the point that when you kill a milk hind it is considered best to kill the calf with it, as otherwise the calf may die of starvation, and if it is a stag calf you could be transgressing against the law. I was very taken by this point, and I will try to come to some agreement about an Amendment on these lines to be inserted in the Bill—even at the risk of increasing the size of the Bill from four pages to eight. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, very much for their support and the compliments paid over this Bill. I find it most encouraging that they, at any rate, and those noble Lords behind them, did not appear to want to add a great deal to the Bill.

The main point which was raised by several speakers was the question of the sale of venison out of season. This seems to me a difficult point. I fully appreciate what is worrying the noble Lords who raised it, but I honestly do not think that this is the Bill with which to deal with the problem. As my noble friend Lord Burton said, in order to license game dealers we should have to amend the 1831 Act. To get deer classed fully as game, would presumably mean some Amendment to the 1860 Act, and I should have thought that to ban the sale of out-of-season stag carcases would come more appropriately under Food and Drugs legislation, or even in the Protection of Consumers Bill—if we ever see that measure again. It seems to me that you might be selling venison under false pretences if you sold stag venison out of season; and when people came to eat it, I am convinced that they would think they had been sold venison under false pretences. I hope, therefore, that my noble friends will desist in their efforts to add something on these lines to the Bill during the Committee stage.

My Lords, I am going to try to allow an extra long time between now and the Committee stage, so that the various interested parties can get together to sec whether they can agree on any other Amendments which might be incorporated in a strictly non-controversial Bill. I am delighted to hear that the Chairman of the Red Deer Commission is going to convene a meeting for the purposes of discussing this matter. That is an excellent idea, but I feel that I should utter a note of warning now. Knowing how busy another place is, I think that, to have any hope of getting this Bill through, we must allow them three or four months, so that there is some chance of slipping in the Bill somewhere under the Ten Minute Rule. It is essential, therefore, that this Bill should leave your Lordships' House by Easter, and in these circumstances I feel that it would be impracticable to delay the Committee stage later than the beginning of March. So any discussions which are to take place must, in my opinion, take place within the next six weeks. I hope, my Lords, that I have covered all the points which have been raised and that you will give this Bill a Second Reading.

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

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past eight o'clock.