HL Deb 21 April 1977 vol 382 cc309-18

5.11 p.m.

Committee stage resumed.

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?


May I ask whether the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will ask his friends in the Government why it should be illegal to take a sheep and yet not illegal to take a deer? This is what he is saying: that it cannot be a criminal offence to take a deer.


I have already come to the conclusion, having listened to Lord Mansfield's comments and the observations of others, that I would want to read very carefully what has been said in the debate regarding Clause 4. If there is any information that I can give the noble Lord, I will certainly do so.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 12:

After Clause 4 insert the following new clause:

Attempts to commit offences, etc.

.—(1) Any person who attempts to commit an offence under the preceding provisions of this Act shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) Any person who, for the purpose of committing an offence under the preceding provisions of this Act, has in his possession any firearm, ammunition or prohibited article shall be guilty of an offence.

The noble Lord said: May I explain briefly that this is a transposition of Clause 13 to this point in the Bill, as advised by the Home Office who have on occasion—I readily acknowledge—been very helpful in small drafting Amendments. They advise that Clause 13 fits more appropriately at this point; and there are also small amendments to the wording, which do not alter the sense of Clause 13. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 13:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Penalties under Part I

. A person guilty of an offence under this Part of this Act shall be liable on summary conviction—

  1. (a) to a fine not exceeding £500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both, and
  2. (b) in the case of an offence which involves the taking, killing or injuring of two or more deer, to a further fine not exceeding £200 for each deer, excluding the first, taken, killed or injured.

The noble Lord said: May I now explain, to follow up what I said at an early stage of our proceedings, that it was found suitable, on advice from the Home Office, to split the clause creating offences, and provide the appropriate penalties to go with each Part of the Bill rather than to have them all in one omnibus clause which might have been wrong and, indeed, misleading. This is the first of a series of Amendments, therefore, effectively to split the penalties as suitable to the various parts of the Bill. If Amendments Nos. 13, 21, 24 and 32 are approved, then I will move the deletion of Clause 16, which was the original omnibus clause creating offences and providing for fines.

I may be asked why the figures of £500 and £200 are in the new clause. May I explain—and I am no expert in this matter —that I understand that Governments now prefer that in our legislation generally penalties shall be of fairly standard figures: £50, £200, £500 or £1,000. There is a general attempt, I understand, to keep penalties to one or other of those four alternatives. The first one is a figure chosen for the penalties of cruelty. Cruelty might he on a vast scale and it might be repeated on several occasions. Therefore, it may well be that a fine of some considerable size is appropriate; in any case, it is an upper level.

As to the second one, it may be said: "Why is not the figure, say, £50 for each deer?" The answer is of course that a deer is now often worth £100 and more, and it would be good business for a poacher, whoever he was, to do his poaching, be fined £50, and still be in pocket at the end of the day because of the value of the carcase. So the figure of £200 is put in as the figure for each deer as something more appropriate, given the level of inflation, than £50 covering the value of each deer which might be taken in the course of poaching. With that explanation, first, that there is not any great alteration in principle because it is a splitting of Clause 16, and, secondly, regarding the figures, I hope that the Amendment will be acceptable. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.17 p.m.

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 14:

Before Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

Registration of venison dealers etc.

.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act,

  1. (a) every local authority shall maintain a register of persons carrying on business in their area as dealers in venison; and
  2. (b) after the expiry of twelve months from the passing of this Act no person shall sell (whether by wholesale or retail) or offer or expose for sale or have in his possession for sale at any premises in the area of a 312 local authority any venison unless he is entered for the time being in accordance with the provisions of this Act in the register maintained by the authority under this section:

Provided that this subsection shall not apply to the sale, offer or exposure for sale by any person to a registered venison dealer of the carcase or part of the carcase of a deer lawfully killed or taken.

(2) Every local authority may, on application being made to them for that purpose by any person carrying on or proposing to carry on business in their area as a dealer in venison and on payment of a fee of fifty pence or such other fee as may be prescribed, register that person as a dealer in venison and issue to him a certificate of registration which shall be valid for a priod of three years.

(3) Every local authority by whom certificates of registration are issued under this section shall, as soon as may be after the first day of January in each year, make a return to the Red Deer Commission in the prescribed form showing the names and addresses of the persons who on that day were entered in the register maintained by them under this section as dealers in venison.

(4) Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of subsection (1)(b) of this section shall be guilty of an offence against this Act and shall be liable

  1. (a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20; and
  2. (b) to the forfeiture of his certificate of registration, issued under the provisions of subsection (2) above.

The noble Viscount said: The Committee will have noticed that I have taken exception to the whole of Part III of the Bill as drafted and have attempted to offer an alternative. The principle which I think is mistaken is that of trying to use venison dealers as a means of catching poachers. I consider that it would be of far greater value in pursuit of the ideals of the Bill, particularly in the management of deer, to obtain accurate information. I sincerely believe that if game dealers are made to be sources of information upon which cases for prosecution—


I wonder if the noble Viscount will allow me to intervene. It may be helpful—I may be wrong and, if so, he will put me right—to speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 30. With great respect, I think they can be taken together, unless the noble Viscount thinks otherwise.

Viscount THURSO

Yes, I was going to come to that. The explanation of Amendment No. 14 will cover the following Amendments, as the noble Lord has pointed out. In other words, it is a substitution of a whole new section for Part III of the Bill as drafted. Rather than alter the Bill as drafted, I have taken the similar Act which operates at the moment in Scotland and adjusted it for the purposes of becoming Part III of this Bill.

As I was saying, I feel the danger here is in using game dealers as a principal means of identifying and attempting to convict people for unlawful acts in relation to the poaching of deer. I think that is a mistake, because it will drive from the ranks of venison dealers the more respectable people and will encourage the less respectable people to sail near the wind and perhaps even to falsify records. The way in which it has been done in Scotland has been to treat the records of venison dealers as confidential and as records upon which prosecution cases cannot be founded. They are confidential and provided merely for the sake of recording the quantities of deer taken, the dates on which they were sold, the areas from which they have come and those to which they have gone; in other words, providing thereby a useful picture of the venison trade. Because those records have been so treated, and treated confidentially, it has been found that the venison figures are pretty accurate. We know that because, in fact, they reveal an element of poaching. Reading the figures one can discover that element of poaching, which is being confessed to in the total records. I think that poaching is a bad thing, but it is not at all a bad thing to be able to discover it in confidence from dealers, so that you know the problem you are up against and are made fully aware of the factors affecting the management of deer within an area.

All that these Amendments seek to do is to substitute provisions of an Act which is working admirably in Scotland for this particular clause in the Bill as drafted. What I am particularly concerned about is that venison dealers' records might be used to found prosecutions. I am also very concerned that the records we have should be accurate and well kept, and that there should be no pressure on venison dealers in any way or for any reason which might cause them to falsify their records, because I take it that one of the main objects of this Bill is to improve the management of deer. It is for that reason that I beg to move these Amendments.


I am probably very dim, but I really do not see that what the noble Viscount is trying to do is substantially different from what is provided in the Bill. I do not think that his Amendments should go very much further. I should like to refer to subsection (3) (on page 3 of the Marshalled List) which says that local authorities should make a return to the Red Deer Commission. The Red Deer Commission operates in Scotland, whereas this is a Bill for England and it is not relating to red deer but just to "deer". So the Amendment is not correctly drafted in the first instance. That brings us back to a point made by the noble Viscount earlier today. It seems that if such a system is to be instituted we might find ourselves in the position of needing to have an overall Deer Commission. That is a very wide subject, and I should be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, feels about it.


Just briefly, I should like to say that this works in Scotland only so far as red deer are concerned. It does not really work as regards the other deer. As has been said, there is a Red Deer Commission, but there is no one to look at the records for other species. Furthermore, mention has been made of falsifying records; but all salmon has to be recorded and I think I am right in saying that all small game has to be recorded. Therefore, there would appear to be no great difficulty in including deer along with these other species.


I think there is a basic difference here between the noble Viscount and myself. He believes, as he is perfectly entitled to do, that the use of any control system of venison should not be used in order to prevent poaching. He prefers that control over sales of venison in the Bill, as altered by his Amendment, should be for the quite dissimilar purposes of the Red Deer Commission. That is a straight difference of opinion and I do not wish to disguise the fact.

I must tell him why I differ—and I think many noble Lords would agree with me in this. I differ because I believe that the traffic in poached deer in England, at any rate, has reached such proportions that the recording of the sale of deer through licensed dealers is an important way by which the police will be able to check on whether poaching has occurred. It will thus help to stamp it out. This is an important and, indeed, a central weapon in the Bill against poaching. It is purely a difference between the noble Viscount and myself, and I think also many other Members here, as to whether that should be the central purpose of the Bill. But, even were we to accept modification of that purpose in the way in which the noble Viscount has outlined in his Amendments, I wonder whether he realises that it would result in a most ridiculous situation. We shall have returns for English deer being made to the Red Deer Commission in Inverness. I do not know what they would do with those returns when they got them and—

Viscount THURSO

Perhaps I might prevent the noble Lord from wasting a lot of time on that point. This is a straight-up error in drafting on my part. The words "Red Deer Commission" should not have been left in. They should have been deleted and replaced by a phrase such as "the Secretary of State", or some similar words. I feel that the Government Department responsible requires to have details and if, as we have discussed already, there is the possibility of some sort of advisory body being set up to advise the Department concerned, it may very well be that such a body should be substituted for "the Red Deer Commission". The fact that those words were left in by mistake when the Amendment was drafted does not negate the rest of what is in this Amendment.


I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for that explanation. May I go on and say that the next difficulty with his Amendment, as drafted, occurs if one looks at subsection (2) of Amendment No. 15. There he is bringing in the English local authorities to issue the certificates, and so on. I have no evidence to believe that this is a duty which ought to be pushed on to local authorities in this form or for this purpose. They do not particularly want to be a vehicle for this kind of control, and I suggest that they would probably resent being bothered with the kind of control which the noble Viscount wants to institute, if it is for the purposes which he has set out. I would tell him also that a great deal of the drafting is defective, in that this matter has nothing to do with county councils, which he has mentioned, and I strongly suspect that the Secretary of State would not want to be bothered with these regulations about this kind of control system.

I could go on but will not do so, because I hope that I have persuaded the noble Viscount of two things: first, that his Amendments are in any event defective, and therefore could hardly be pressed at this stage; and, secondly, that there is a difference here which ought to be more fully explained if the Amendments are put down in a clear form at a later stage. The noble Viscount discussed these Amendments with me, and I suggested to him that I should be very willing to discuss my version of Part III with representatives of the Red Deer Commission, to see whether they could convince me that the control system in my Bill should be abandoned in favour of the version which he is trying—ineffectively, as I suggest—to put forward in his Amendments. I repeat that assurance.

I have looked at my diary, and how I am going to do it between now and Report stage is slightly problematical. But, in one way or another, especially if the Red Deer Commission have representatives occasionally visiting London, I should be delighted to talk with the Commission to see whether they have advice to offer on this Part of the Bill. I could not be bound in any way to accept the wholesale modification of objectives which the noble Viscount is setting out to do, but I should certainly like to learn from their experience about Part III, and come forward and say what I have learned at a later stage.

Viscount THURSO

I am grateful for that assurance confirming something which we spoke about. As I can accept that assurance, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Sale, etc., of venison]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 3, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 4 and insert—

  1. ("(a) at any time during the prohibited period sells or offers or exposes for sale or has in his possession for sale any venison; or
  2. (b) at any time sells or offers or exposes for sale any venison otherwise than to a licensed game dealer,
he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.

(2) In this section "prohibited period", in relation to any venison which comes from a species and description of deer in relation to which a close season is prescribed by Schedule 1 to this Act, means the period beginning with the expiration of the tenth day, and ending with the expiration of the last day, of that season,")

The noble Lord said: This is a redrafting of the clause. It does not alter its sense, but it also specifies the appropriate penalty at the right point in the Bill. I do not think I need say any more. I beg to move.


I wonder whether I may ask the noble Lord the position of venison in deep freezes. Is that covered by this Amendment, because a lot is exported and it has to be frozen first.


I must confess that I cannot answer that question, but I should like to do so after this debate by writing to the noble Lord and perhaps, if I cannot find him the answer, returning to the point at Report stage. I apologise for the fact that this point has caught me unprepared.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Licensed game dealers to keep records]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 4, line 18, leave out from ("dealer") to end of line 22 and insert ("or from a venison dealer registered under the Sale of Venison (Scotland) Act 1968, he shall be deemed to have complied with the requirements of this section if he has recorded in the book—

  1. (a) that the venison was purchased or received from another licensed game dealer, or from a venison dealer registered as aforesaid;
  2. 318
  3. (b) the name and address of that other licensed game dealer or of that venison dealer so registered;
  4. (c) the date when the venison was so purchased or received; and
  5. (d) the total weight of the venison so purchased or received.")

The noble Lord said: This is very largely redrafting, but it also covers the case of the sale in England of deer imported from Scotland, which I believe was raised on Second Reading, making clear the details that will need to be kept by such a game dealer in England, dealing in venison that has come from Scotland. I can only suggest that these words involve no great departure. They cover a point which was legitimately raised on Second Reading. I beg to move.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.