HL Deb 21 April 1977 vol 382 cc319-76

5.39 p.m.

House again in Committee on Amendment No. 18.


I had just completed explaining Amendment No. 18 and making clear its purpose.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 [Inspection of records, etc.]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 19: Page 4, line 29, leave out ("his premises or in his vehicle") and insert ("any premises or in any vehicle under his control").

The noble Lord said: Again this is a slight redrafting and tightening of the words in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Offences in respect of records]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 20: Page 5, line 1, after first ("person") insert ("wilfully").

The noble Lord said: Again, this is a very small drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 5, line 5, at end insert— ("(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.").

The noble Lord said: As I mentioned when moving an earlier Amendment, the intention here is to introduce a penalty appropriate to the offence at the appropriate point in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [Venison from deer taken illegally]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 22: Page 5, line 6, leave out ("purchases, receives or sells") and insert ("purchases or offers to purchase or receives or sells or offers or exposes for sale any").

The noble Lord said: Clearly, this is a drafting Amendment which has been suggested by expert advisers. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 23: Page 5, line 7, leave out ("illegally or").

The noble Lord said: Again, this is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 24: Page 5, line 10, at end insert ("and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both.").

The noble Lord said: This is a point where again I beg to move the penalty appropriate to this part of the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 24A:

Page 5, line 10, at end insert— ("() For the purposes of the foregoing subsection a deer which has been taken by means of shooting with any smooth bore gun shall be deemed to have been taken in circumstances which constitute an offence under this Act.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 24A is consequential upon my later Amendment No. 44 which permits, in certain circumstances, the use of the shotgun. With your Lordships' permission, I should prefer not to press this Amendment until after your Lordships have come to a decision on Amendment No. 44. Therefore I prefer not to move this Amendment until the Report stage, by which time your Lordships will have had the opportunity to consider my later Amendment.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 [Interpretation of Part III]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 25: Page 5, line 20, leave out from beginning to ("shall") in line 23 and insert (" "sale" includes barter and exchange and "sell" and "purchase" ").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting Amendment to clear up a definition. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13 [Attempts to commit offences, etc.]:

On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?


This clause has been slightly redrafted and in an earlier Amendment has been placed after Clause 4. Therefore I hope that at this point we may negative the clause.

Clause 13 disagreed to.

Clause 14 [Powers of search, arrest and seizure]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 26: Page 6, line 19, leave out ("Subject to the next following subsection").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 26 perhaps I may deal also with Amendment No. 27. These words become unnecessary to the Bill, in view of various Amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 27: Page 6, line 22, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 28: Page 6, line 38, leave out ("section") and insert ("subsection").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 15 [Forfeitures and disqualifications]:

5.49 p.m.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 29: Page 7, line 3, leave out from ("the") to end of line 8 and insert ("taking, killing or injuring of deer and which is found in his possession, or of any dog used (by the person convicted or by anyone else) for the purpose of committing, or facilitating the commission of, the offence;").

The noble Lord said: Here I come to an Amendment which has two purposes. First, it slightly redrafts this part of the Bill. Secondly, it has a much more important purpose; namely, to meet a point which was raised, I think by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, at Second Reading when I made a promise to him to consider the matter before the Committee stage. The noble Lord raised the point that it would be iniquitous, as the Bill is drafted, too easily to allow any dog to be destroyed if it had been used in the activities prohibited by the Bill. As the noble Lord will recall, I readily took his point. The effect of the Amendment would be to remove the order allowing for the possibility of destruction and to substitute that any such dog could be forfeited. This would mean that the court would have to be satisfied either that the dog was taken by somebody else or that it was not left in the hands of a person who might misuse it once again for one of the illegal purposes mentioned in the Bill. I hope that these words commend themselves to the noble Lord and meet the point he raised on Second Reading. I beg to move.


Simply for my own curiosity does the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, think that an order for forfeiture by a court would be anything other than a sentence of death?


I think it might well be that the court could order it to be sent to a dogs' home. It would be up to the court to investigate whether the only possible thing to do would be to destroy it. I would not want to say to the court that it should necessarily do so if an alternative way of keeping it out of the hands of a miscreant could be found.


I should like to thank the noble Lord for going this far towards meeting my suggestions. I can assure my noble friend Lord Mansfield that I have mentioned this matter to the Canine Defence League, who said that they would be only too pleased to take such a dog, rehabilitate it and find a home for it.


I am slightly puzzled, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, can enlighten me. If this Amendment is agreed to, the word "dog" will still remain in line 2 on page 7, so that paragraph (b) will read, order the forfeiture of any firearm, ammunition, prohibited article, dog, vehicle or any other thing … and there is a further reference to "dog" later in the subsection. Is that really what the noble Lord intends?


I have one hesitation in regard to this Amendment. I am not quite clear about the position in England and Wales, but in Scotland when a court orders an article to be forfeited it can be bought back. Indeed, there was a most unfortunate case in Sutherland recently where the weapons belonging to people who had been shooting deer out of season were bought back at substantially less than their face value. Might it be in this case that the owner of a dog could just go round the corner and buy his dog back?


I should like to refer to one small point on which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, may be able to enlighten me. There is no mention of horses. It may be a rather old-fashioned form of transport, but a horse could well be used. Would it be possible for somebody to be brought before the court for the use of a horse? Also, there is no mention of transport as a means of taking and killing: is that covered?


I should like to reflect on that point and consider it for a later stage in the Bill, although I would point out that the word "vehicle" is included. I am not sure about the horse, and I should like to think about it.

The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, is that if he will look at the way in which the subsections would be redrafted, he will see that they really fall into two categories: on the one hand the court could order the forfeiture of any firearm, dog, et cetera which is capable of being used for the taking or killing and is found in his possession. It would also be up to the court to order the forfeiture of any dog actually used. In the redraft it would refer to a dog used by the person convicted or by anyone else associated with the offence, not just for committing, but for the purpose of committing or facilitating the commission of the offence. In other words, it is to broaden the whole way in which people misusing dogs can actually be caught. On reflection, I think he will see the sense of the total re-draft.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 31: Page 7, line 20, leave out ("it is an offence for the holder to fail") and insert ("if the holder fails").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 32: Page 7, line 22, at end insert ("he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50 ").

The noble Lord said: This again is a case where the appropriate penalty is being fitted in to the appropriate point in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Penalties]:

On Question, Whether Clause 16 shall stand part of the Bill?


At last I come to the point where I can stop saying that we are inserting the appropriate penalty at the appropriate point. We have reached the end of that catalogue and we can now leave out the omnibus clause which those Amendments will replace. Therefore, I hope we may be able to negative Clause 16.

Clause 16 disagreed to.

Clause 17 [General Exceptions]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 34: Page 7, line 37, after ("1") insert ("or 2").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment covers a point which has arisen since the Second Reading of the Bill; namely, that some of the mercy killings which it may be appropriate to authorise may be necessary at night as well as during the day. Therefore, inserting the words "or 2" would authorise such mercy slaughtering at night. It is an appropriate Amendment which might meet some particular cases. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord DORMER moved Amendment No. 35: Page 7, line 37, after ("done") insert ("with reasonable excuse").

The noble Lord said: The clause as drafted gives the unscrupulous or ignorant person, or the person who is both, the excuse to take a deer calf away from its mother under the pretext of preventing suffering, whereas that may not be the case at all. As is well known to many of your Lordships, a red deer hind may leave its calf for many hours of the day while it goes in search of food or water and it will always return in the evening. A red deer hind may travel up to 20 miles a day for that purpose. The inclusion of the words "with reasonable excuse" may cause a person to think carefully before committing such an act in regard to a red deer calf which it may be thought is crying for its mother. I consider these words to be a safeguard to protect the calf. I beg to move.


Subject to the views of other members of the Committee, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dormer. This double-banks again; it helps to prevent the words "mercy killing", or whatever phrase we use to justify these matters, being misused, by forcing the person concerned to provide evidence that this was an appropriate label to put on his action. I am slightly afraid that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is going to say this is another case where we are putting in words of which he disapproves. Therefore I should like to defer any final comments until I have heard any legal advice he may feel free to offer.


It should really be for the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to be saying this, not me. All I would say to my noble friend is this. I am sure we all agree with what he is seeking to do to strengthen the clause. In fact, if somebody is summonsed and is before the court and tries to pretend—tries, in other words, to justify his action—what the court will have to decide is whether the act was done for the purpose of preventing suffering or not. If the person is unscrupulous, it really would make very little difference, in my submission, whether the words suggested by my noble friend, "with reasonable excuse", were in the clause or not. Either he acted in good faith for the purpose of preventing suffering or he did not, and the court will have so to decide. The point of the matter is—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will agree with me—that it is undesirable to put surplusage into a clause unless there is a real point of doubt or something which needs reinforcement.


I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I did not get up because I had a feeling that your Lordships felt I had acted unreasonably earlier for quite a long period of time; I did not want to be unreasonable again. I think the noble Earl has put his finger on the point. Either you have authority to do something or you do not have authority. In this particular case it provides an exemption for a person who kills a deer in the close season "for the purpose of preventing suffering to any deer calf, fawn or kid deprived of its mother". It is quite clear. There is a danger, if I may say so with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, in putting in any more words than are necessary because the additional words will often give rise to a lot of argument. We would think that either a person had the right to do it or did not. For that reason we would take the view the noble Earl has taken, that the Amendment is unnecessary because as the clause is worded it is quite clear.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 36: Page 7, line 40, leave out from ("offence") to ("of") in line 41 and insert ("under section 1 or 2").

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, in moving Amendment No. 36, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 37 and 38. All three Amendments are entirely drafting Amendments and do not alter the sense of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 37: Page 8, line 3, leave out ("by setting in position, or using, any trap or") and insert ("or of an offence under section 3(1) of this Act by reason of setting in position or using any trap or using any").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 38: Page 8, line 6, leave out ("it") and insert ("the deer").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Viscount THURSO had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 39:

Page 8, line 7, leave out subsection (3) and insert— ("(3) Nothing in section 1, 2 or 3 of this Act shall apply to anything done by the owner or persons employed by or authorised by the owner in relation to deer kept on enclosed land not in the wild state.")

The noble Viscount said: Here we come to an Amendment that has to do with a subject I raised earlier on in the Committee proceedings on the Bill, the question of deer farming. I think I can take it that the assurance which was given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that he would discuss the whole question of deer farming, applies here. If that is so, then I am happy not to move this Amendment.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 40: Page 8, line 12, leave out ("apply to") and insert ("make unlawful").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 40. This is a purely drafting Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 41: Page 8, leave out line 14 and insert ("for the purposes of, or in the course of, the veterinary treatment of a deer.")

The noble Lord said: The point was raised at Second Reading, or at any rate it was raised with me privately, that the clause as drafted did not cover any preparatory work that might be done by a veterinary surgeon. The specific point of the Amendment is to introduce the words "for the purposes of", which will cover a veterinary surgeon in his preparatory work to anything that he is doing to a deer in the circumstances set out in the clause. In that sense the Amendment does not widen the Bill in any vital sense, and it does clear up a point raised earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 42: Page 8, line 19, leave out from ("offence") to ("under") in line 20.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 42. This is purely drafting.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

6.8 p.m.

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 8, line 23, leave out from ("he") to end of line 30 and insert ("is the occupier of that cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland or a person authorised in writing by him.

( ) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 2 of this Act by reason only of taking or killing or attempted taking or killing by means of shooting any deer on any cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland if he is the occupier of that land.").

The noble Viscount said: Here we come to another of the important points on which I am at variance with the Bill. This Amendment is similar to another Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. It is a matter very much in the minds of farmers, and it is one to which I should like your Lordships' Committee to turn its mind. If it is to be made an offence to use certain weapons for the taking or killing of deer, then it seems to me it must follow that a farmer may automatically arm himself with appropriate weapons if it is necessary for him to protect his crop.


If I may interrupt the noble Viscount—I apologise for doing so—I wonder whether I might suggest to the Committee that it would be convenient, because of the big issue being raised by the noble Viscount, if we could discuss with his Amendment Amendments Nos. 44 to 55 inclusive. These Amendments all deal with the issue of the shotgun and the position of the owner-occupier in relation to use of weapons against deer. I would hope that we could have a general debate on this issue because there are several alternative possibilities of amending the clause. If one or two Amendments were moved and were agreed that would pre-empt discussion of some of the others; they would fall. If we could have a general debate on Amendments Nos. 43 to 55 inclusive, I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee.

Viscount THURSO

I should be happy to agree to that, but it is also for the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, to say whether he agrees.


I am perfectly happy to do that. I think it would make the proceedings much shorter and more convenient.

Viscount THURSO

If your Lordships' Committee wishes, let us discuss the whole matter. It is a matter of principle. It is the question of how a farmer or a forester is to protect his crop against depredation by deer which may wish to establish themselves on his land, or depredation by deer which cross on to his land from his neighbours land. If one is to take away from the farmer certain weapons which are readily available to him, it must follow, it seems to me, that one should automatically give him a right to weapons suitable for protecting his crop.

No one has suggested—the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and none of the sponsors of the Bill have in any way suggested—that it is possible to set up a body, similar to the field officer and his control staff on the Red Deer Commission in Scotland, which would professionally be able to control deer for farmers if the farmers were under severe attack and being marauded by deer. Therefore, your Lordships must understand that this will open wide the right to apply for, demand and receive firearm certificates for high-powered rifles. That is a very serious matter of which we must be aware in dealing with this part of the Bill. We cannot simply say that we shall take away the farmer's right to use his shotgun to protect his crops and that we shall not give him a right to obtain a weapon suitable to protect his crops. That would not be in the interests of farming; nor would it be in the interests of the country.

It is not essential to take away the shotgun. In many circumstances the shotgun is a preferable weapon to the rifle. At very close quarters—and this certainly applies to smaller forms of deer, such as Muntjac deer or Chinese Water deer—a high-powered rifle has too much power and would be liable to blow the animal to pieces. I know of an instance when someone shot at a fox with a high-powered rifle and all that was picked up was the brush, the mask and the pads; the rest of the fox disintegrated. Therefore, such a weapon would not be suitable or necessary for a deer that is not much larger than a hare, and would be dangerous.

There was a case in Caithness of a farmer protecting his crop by using a rifle. In fact he shot his neighbour's cooker—luckily, his neighbour was not at the cooker at the time. The rifle bullet entered a window, crossed the kitchen and drilled the cooker stone dead. Therefore, it would be very dangerous if many people who are not, perhaps, familiar with high-powered rifles and not using them in a controlled manner, went around the countryside desperately trying to protect their crops from attack and depredation by deer which possibly have not lived on the land in question but which have come from neighbouring land.

Until some sensible alternative can be found with which the farmer can protect his crop, and until a body of professional people can be found which can be relied upon to use rifles securely and accurately, like the field officer and stalkers of the Red Deer Commission in Scotland, it is only right and sensible that the farmer be left with a right to use the one weapon which he knows how to use, the one weapon which is commonly in his possession and the weapon which for his purpose at close quarters is in many ways preferable to some of the other weapons to be made legal under the Bill.

Therefore, I have tabled this Amendment which says that if a person: is the occupier of that cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland or a person authorised in writing by him. () A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 2 of this Act by reason only of taking or killing or attempted taking or killing by means of shooting any deer on any cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland if he is the occupier of that land. As we are discussing all these Amendments together, I go on to add that he would not be guilty of an offence of shooting: deer, by means of shooting with any smooth bore gun of 12 bore gauge loaded with a cartridge purporting to contain shot each of which is 203 inches (5.2 millimetres) in diameter, on any cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland of which he is the occupier. Noble Lords will also notice that I have extended the time over which the farmer can shoot. That is vital, because the best opportunity of taking deer which are damaging crops occurs at dawn. The reason for my first Amendment is to cover a farmer shooting at first light. The other Amendment is to cover a farmer shooting with the weapon which he at present probably possesses and which he can use more safely and accurately than any other. I wish to press these Amendments at this stage because they are very important and we must bear in mind the consequences of the Bill on agriculture and forestry as well as on other aspects of our life.


I understand that your Lordships have agreed that we discuss with this Amendment Amendments Nos. 44 to 55 inclusive. I must point out that if Amendment No. 44 is agreed, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 45 to 55.


Perhaps I should speak now as my Amendment is next on the Marshalled List. At present, I shall speak particularly to how it relates to the Amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. The Amendments are more or less identical, though naturally I believe that mine is better, mainly because it was drafted South of the Border.

The purpose of these Amendments, as the noble Viscount said, is to allow the farmer to protect his crops. I have no intention of repeating my Second Reading speech, partly because it would annoy your Lordships and partly, and more importantly, because since the Second Reading debate I have learned quite a bit about the justifiable and worthy feelings of those who have promoted the Bill. Perhaps I was not too kind on Second Reading and, if so, I apologise unreservedly.

I am more than prepared to agree that, all things being equal, I would not insist on this Amendment which allows the farmer in certain circumstances to use a shotgun to protect his crops. Indeed, on my farm, where I have increasing and extensive deer damage, I found two policemen to cull deer using rifles. Unfortunately—as your Lordships know better than I—things in life are not always equal, and despite my sympathy with those who would like to forbid the farmer to use a shotgun to protect his crops, as is proposed in the Bill, I am more than ever convinced that in the best interests of the deer population—and more particularly farming and food production, on which I feel very strongly—I must insist on my Amendment. Should this Amendment not be acceptable to your Lordships, as I said when I moved Amendment No. 24A, I shall move it on Report. It would make it an offence to sell venison shot by means of shotgun pellets and thus stop those very few rogue farmers—and I believe that they are very few—from making money out of such carcasses.

To sum up, I believe that the Bill as it stands gives grave concern to those of us trying to produce food. It creates, first, a precedent of taking away from the farmer the right to protect his crops. Secondly, the compulsory use of the rifle by farmers is dangerous, particularly to those who have many footpaths, as I do, through their land. I have changed my mind over this question of access to the land as I believe that we are particularly fortunate in being able to farm and own land, or tenant land, and we should allow those less privileged to walk over our land. We should not be covetous.

I should like to say that I was particularly impressed earlier on in your Lordships' debate by Lady Hylton-Foster's remarks about roe deer in her part of the country. I do not think that I should like to shoot her roe deer in her villages with rifles. Thirdly, the effectiveness of the deer control societies in certain areas is much in doubt, and the effectiveness of the average farmer with a rifle very much in doubt. Fourthly, the use of the shotgun as a threat—and I am sorry to use such a word—to make people use a rifle on deer is most effective. I am sorry to use a personal case but I have done it and, as a result, we are now using a rifle. Maybe it is not the best way but sometimes it works like that in the country.

Fifthly, I know no one who will forecast the size of the deer problem in the next two years, let alone in the next 10 years, as I know we are going to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. I do not think it is right to legislate 10 years in advance. Sixthly, with regard to the use of shotguns this Bill will in my opinion be unenforceable in the countryside. Do we really want to force farmers to break yet another law? Surely your Lordships will agree that we have enough of the wretched things already. Seventhly, and I am glad to say, lastly, many of your Lordships are fortunate in living in the country, and I suggest that this method of forbidding and saying "No" is not the way to achieve less cruelty and poaching by alienating the farmers—and you will alienate quite a lot of them. Of course you can take individual ones who will not mind. They probably have not got a deer problem.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is better in the country to persuade personally. I know that when I behave badly in the village—and of course I do—it is not the law that puts me right; it is my neighbour. In the country you have a lot of neighbours to tell you that you are a fool, or an ass, or whatever you are, and it is not very pleasant to be told so. I believe that that is the way to do it in the country, not to legislate the whole time. I therefore ask your Lordships, before you decide on this Amendment, which I believe to be very important, to consider the points I have raised carefully and, I hope, kindly. It is so easy to meddle in the countryside with disastrous effects, completely opposite to those you intend. I have done it. I believe there is not a noble Lord here who has not done it himself. I ask your Lordships to let things stand as they are. Please do not legislate; let us try and educate. I do not think I can move my Amendment at the moment, because I think Lord Thurso's Amendment has been moved.

6.24 p.m.


May I intervene at this stage because I should like to suggest that this discussion ought to take into account the very broad range of alternatives that are set out in this dozen or so Amendments. I think that it would be a mistake to discuss them individually because in fact they boil down to four alternative ways of handling this shotgun issue. At this stage, even if it takes slightly longer than I would normally speak on Committee (and I shall try to be brief), I should like to set out the four alternative packages of shotgun provisions that the Amendments, taken together, offer as a choice.

The first package is the Bill as drafted. The Bill as drafted is that there should be a prohibition after five years on the use of a shotgun—this means moving over to the rifle—and that within those five years it shall in any case be illegal to use a shotgun on red deer. The first point is that the package proposed by the Bill has those first two features: a five-year switch to rifles, but with an immediate ban on using shotguns on red deer. Moreover, it goes one stage further at the top of page 9. The package under the Bill bans deer drives except in particular forms. I forgot to mention the fourth point in this first alternative. In our view it improves the kind of shot that can be permissible in the use of the shotgun compared with the existing situation under the 1963 Act. That is the first package: five years of use of the shotgun with different shot, with a switch at the end of five years to the rifle, and no use on red deer, and the beginning of banning of the less scrupulous forms of deer drives. That is the first package, and I have to speak deliberately about this to get the alternative packages set out.

The first alternative to that package is the one suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. Before I come to it may I. say that, in looking at the package in the Bill, I have, as I undertook to do at Second Reading, had very wide-ranging consultations indeed. I do not think that the National Farmers' Union can complain that I have been impossible to get at. They have seen me on two occasions, and kindly been up to London and brought people from other parts of the country, and we have met in a spirit of trying to reach agreement. I was slightly disappointed that at the end of those consultations the NFU did not come back to me with their final conclusions. They did not do me the courtesy of coming to me at the end of the day and after the second meeting and saying, "This is the position we now feel bound to take up". All we have is their final statement which, as a circular letter, appeared this morning. I do not think that that was as courteous as it should have been. Even so, I do not think that I can be faulted in my attempts to consult.


I am sorry if that is what happened, but they did not make up their final position until Monday night. It is true, as I hope the noble Lord knows, that I telephoned the Chairman of the British Deer Society that night, I think 30 minutes after I had heard from the National Farmers' Union.


Nothing has reached me other than a copy of the circular letter. I do not make a great issue of this, but I wanted to prove that I had tried to be as amenable and courteous as possible. The second point I make before looking at Lord Stanley's Amendment is that I want to reject the suggestions that this Bill was, and should be regarded as, a Bill simply to stop poaching. It is not. It is a Bill to tighten up the methods of killing deer so as to minimise the extent of the cruelty that can be involved, sometimes unwittingly, in all forms of slaughter of deer. Indeed, I might tell your Lordships that when the Bill was originally drafted its Long Title contained the words, "To further humane methods of control". This has always been the intention of the Bill. It has never been simply an anti-poaching Bill. That is why it strays into this domain of the farmer trying to control, and legitimately control (I have made that clear all the time), deer making themselves pests on his land.

With those two remarks, let me come to Lord Stanley's alternative package. The first thing I would say is that if he presses this we shall be just about the most backward country in Europe in this matter. Not only have all the countries in what one might call Western Europe moved over to banning the shotgun, but now we have—and I did not mention this at Second Reading because I did not in fact know about it—the fact that Eire has just passed its own wildlife Bill which totally bans the shotgun in all these circumstances, and indeed extends the banning of the shotgun to the killing of other mammals. I can only say that a very good case must be made out if we are now to stand alone in the whole of Western Europe in making no progress—I choose my words carefully—in outlawing the shotgun. I hope the noble Lord realises how far behind the whole of Western Europe, including Eire, we should be if we accept his Amendment.

On Second Reading, a number of noble Lords expressed the fear that farmers would not obtain firearm certificates if there was a move over to the rifle, whether it be now, in five years or whenever. In this respect, I wish to inform the Committee of a letter I have received from the Minister of Agriculture which I hope will go a long way towards allaying forever the fear that if the Bill were left in its present form farmers would not be able to obtain firearm certificates. The crucial sentence in the Minister's letter reads: I would be prepared on enactment of the Bill to instruct appropriate regional officers of my Ministry to supply to any farmer having a genuine agricultural case for needing to kill deer a report which could be submitted by him o the chief constable in support of an application tor a rifle licence". By that he means, of course, a firearm certificate. I hope that as a result of that we can get away from the fear that a farmer legitimately requiring a firearm certificate to use a rifle would in some way not have much support and might be unduly in the hands of the chief constable in this matter.


How does the noble Lord equate that with a letter which has been sent round—indeed, it is being sent round now—by my chief constable saying that he is doing everything he possibly can to stop the spread of certificates and reduce the number of firearms held in the county?


I can answer that question simply by referring the noble Lord to what the Minister says in the letter from which I quoted. He says: I would be prepared on enactment of the Bill …". In other words, if Parliament makes up its mind that it would be a proper thing to outlaw the shotgun in the circumstances, then, when that point has been reached, the Minister will put on pressure through his officers to help farmers in legitimate circumstances to obtain a firearm certificate. That means that if Parliament passes this Bill the Minister will intervene in what will be a totally different situation to change the views of chief constables, and that is clearly a helpful letter from the Minister.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again and I admit to being ignorant on this matter, but I did not think it was the right of a Minister of the Crown to tell a chief constable what to do or how to do it.


I am not saying that the Minister has said anything of the sort. The Minister has written saying, in effect, that he would be prepared to get his officers to support such an application. He cannot, of course, tell a chief constable what to do. However, if a Minister writes to a chief constable saying that Parliament has said that it would be inappropriate for shotguns any longer to be used on deer, but that a farmer should be allowed to kill his deer with a rifle, I cannot see any chief constable saying, "I will take no notice of the Minister". Parliament would be guiding the law of the land in this matter towards the issuing of firearm certificates in appropriate cases. I beg noble Lords not to misinterpret what I am saying, which is simply that the Minister will support applications in appropriate cases.

What Lord Stanley is proposing in his package, as opposed to the steps forward in the Bill, would be retrograde; indeed, what he proposes would be worse than the situation we have now and, I think worse than what we would all accept to be reasonable. What would be the effect of his Amendment? First, unless I have misread his Amendment—I hope he will interrupt me if I am wrong—it would mean that the shotgun could be used on all deer, including red deer. I should have thought that if we are agreed on nothing else, we are agreed that the shotgun is a very inhumane weapon, using shot of this size, on such large deer as red deer. Secondly, his Amendment as drafted would not necessitate any farmer having to prove that the animals were causing serious damage to his crops. It would therefore be almost an open door to farmers to use the shotgun for any purpose they liked against deer.


I interrupt only because the noble Lord asked me to do so. On the first point, so far as red deer are concerned, I am advised—I must admit that I do not know practically—that the solid shot referred to in one of the noble Lord's Amendment is liable to wound and be more dangerous and is more cruel than the SSG shot which is mentioned in my Amendment. I think he is also wrong unless I am mistaken, on his second point about a farmer being able to shoot deer at any time. It is true that he can when the deer is in season but, as I understand it —and I am sure the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—the provision will still apply and, as a farmer, I will not be able to shoot a deer on my land out of season unless it is doing or has done serious damage. I may be wrong about that, but that is my understanding of the position.


The noble Lord is mistaken on the second point. I am not saying that this gives the farmer the right to shoot out of season. I am simply saying that the Amendment as drafted would allow a farmer to shoot without the necessity of proving that the deer was causing serious damage. I should have thought that if we are to leave any shotgun authorisation in the Bill, we should limit it by saying that it can be used only when the deer are causing damage. That is not said in the noble Lord's Amendment, which makes his proposal faulty and retrograde compared with the existing law and what we should all, I think, agree to be reasonable.

Regarding his first point about the use of the shotgun on deer, I am not at the moment discussing my Amendment but his, and that would allow the use of shot of an inappropriate kind on red deer. We really must consider his Amendment as it is drafted. If he insists on it and gets it voted through, it will have a retrogressive effect in two senses; no proof of damage and use on red deer, both of which are totally inappropriate.

The third disadvantage of his Amendment as drafted is that it would introduce the definition of a shotgun cartridge which would be even more cruel than the one in the Bill. I am not technically equipped to argue this, but I am told that the cartridge in the noble Lord's Amendment is more likely to cause cruelty than the slight step forward, compared with the 1963 Act, contained in the Bill. Thus, in that third sense his Amendment is, if not exactly defective, at least not progressive.

Let us consider the associated Amendment to which the noble Lord referred, No. 24A, which he said he would move on Report. I confess that I regret ever having floated the idea that is contained in Amendment No. 24A, because I accept that it was my idea in the first place and that it has now been taken up by the noble Lord. I have to tell him that this idea in Amendment No. 24A is unworkable. The idea of that Amendment, which he would associate with the present Amendment at Report stage, is to limit the farmers to using shotguns, but at the same time to try to tame their use of shotguns by preventing them from selling the carcases.

That is the purpose of Amendment No. 24A, and it is the package which the noble Lord is offering. Frankly, it is unworkable. I want to tell the noble Lord why. It would then he the case that the carcases that could legally be sold would be only those shot by rifle. However, most carcases are sold in the skin. How is the game dealer to know exactly how the animal has been killed and whether or not he should accept it? I would go even further and say to the noble Lord that, should a farmer wish to get round the provision proposed in Amendment No. 24A—and I must discuss this because it is associated with the noble Lord's Amendment—he need only put a bullet through the animal when it is dead or drive a skewer through its head and say, "That's a bullet hole." In fact, the farmer would be able to drive a coach and horses through the whole scheme proposed in the noble Lord's present Amendment together with the Amendment to be moved at Report stage. The scheme would be unenforceable.

Lastly, perhaps the noble Lord will consider the onus that he is putting on the venison dealer. He is saying that the dealer must bear the onus of deciding what carcases he should accept as legal and what he should not accept as illegal. That is an unfair burden to put on the game dealer and, I believe, would not only be resented by the dealers but the Home Office would feel that we were misusing the system of registration proposed in the Bill. I must tell the noble Lord that I started with immense sympathy towards finding a way of allowing owner-occupiers to protect themselves against deer that are pests on their land. However, when I looked at the package that he proposed, I was horrified at the defects in his Amendments.

Those Amendments comprise the second package as against that which appears in the Bill. I apologise for speaking at some length but I feel that we should narrow this matter down to discussing the four packages which the Amendments offer. I come to the third package. That is comprised in the Amendment put down by the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret. He says, "Oh, I am very sorry, but I am in total disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. What is wrong with the Bill is not that it is too tight; it is not tight enough". In effect, he says, that the five-year period during which the use of the shotgun would be allowed should be cut right down to two years.


With great respect to the noble Lord, I have not actually got round to saying anything yet. I do not know whether it would be appropriate if I did so, and the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, then continued his comments on the packages that we are discussing.


I can save the noble Viscount the bother, because I am not going to discuss the package. I am just setting out the four packages, as I see them. We then come to the fourth package, which is my own attempt and which, appearing in the Marshalled List after the Amendments proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, is an attempt to find a way of helping farmers without going to the extreme position of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley.

Here, I offer four possibilities in my set of Amendments. If it is felt by farmers that the package now in the Bill is too hard on them, I would propose the Amendments that I have put down. The package has four features: first, while allowing the continued use of the shotgun, it would nevertheless limit the use of the shot used to the rifle slug. This will be something which is familiar to Members of your Lordships' House. It is more like a bullet, and I am assured by the experts who examined the issue that it is much less liable to cause cruelty than the kind of shot which is proposed in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. Secondly, if it could be agreed that the use of the shotgun should be limited to using a rifle slug, we could then say that it could be used against red deer because it is big enough not to be cruel. Thirdly, to placate the farmer, I suggest a ten-year period for a switch to rifles. Fourthly, if we could move to the rifle slug, we could return to the proposals in the Bill and allow deer drives to continue.

So what I am proposing is a series of Amendments which adds up to a four-pronged attempt to meet the view of the farmers; ten year transition, continuation with the shotgun, use of the rifle slug against red deer as well as any others and the continuation of deer drives. I apologise for speaking at such length but the packages which I have set out are the alternatives which are available. I guess that I shall be hammered because, once again, I have tried to find a compromise. I accept that, but I did not set out to find a compromise on this matter. I have done the best I can. I am very hopeful that if we can have a general debate on the four alternatives we may then all agree to withdraw our Amendments and try again between now and Report stage, having narrowed down to these four alternatives, to get a finally agreed form which goes some way to meet the farmer. I hope, however, that we shall bear in mind all the time that, in doing so, we shall end up being less progressive in this matter than the whole of Western Europe and Eire. Therefore, if I may suggest it, we ought to tread reasonably carefully in this matter.


The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has been addressing himself to the red deer. I mentioned earlier the problem of the roe deer, and I should like to ask what the noble Lord has in mind as regards the shooting of roe deer near built-up areas. I do not think that it is possible or safe to use a rifle, and I believe that there is a right cartridge for a shotgun which will kill roe deer much more humanely than the wrong methods that people will use because the roe deer is such a very great menace. I do not believe that, even in five years' time, it will be safe for anybody to use a rifle.

6.49 p.m.


I should like to add a few words on this matter. I fear that I shall incur some displeasure from my noble friends, and especially from the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, because I am on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. I have had a life experience of deer, of farming and of land-owning. The object of the Bill is to achieve a more humane attitude towards deer generally. Some noble Lords appear to have forgotten that fact, and I would emphasise what the noble Lord. Lord Northfield, has said. I have shot all over Europe and it has always been embarrassing when Germans, French people, Austrians and Swedes have said, "How appalling it is that in your country you use a shotgun on deer!" It is very difficult for me to explain why.

In the Bill as drafted, if deer are causing damage to a farmer he has perfect redress; he has only to explain matters to the court. When we come to enclosed woodland, nearly all the woodland in this country is enclosed. There are millions of acres of it. If some of these Amendments were agreed, they would give the farmer carte blanche not only to shoot deer to protect his crops but also to make money. As I mentioned on Second Reading, I have come across very many instances in which farmers do not shoot the deer to protect their crops but try to exterminate them to make money. If some of these Amendments are allowed then probably most of the deer will eventually be exterminated in England, quite apart from the question of their being foully wounded.

I agree with one point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. I have Chinese water deer and they can be shot stone dead at 30 or 35 yards with a shot gun, and the same applies to Muntjac. As we know, under the Bill there is a five-year period anyway in which farmers can use shotguns. But if the use of a shotgun is to be allowed for ever, what is to prevent farmers using it on red deer or on any other deer? That is the difficulty that I foresee, and I cannot see how there can be a guarantee against that.

I admit that the noble Baroness had a point regarding roe deer in built-up areas. It is dangerous for an inexperienced person to use a rifle in a built-up area; but there are very few roe deer in built-up areas, and anyone whom the chief constable thinks is competent enough to have a firearm will not fire his rifle at the horizon. He will make sure that he has the ground behind the deer, that he is firing into a solid background. I can hardly think that any danger would arise that inexperienced people could get rifles. I will not delay the Committee, but I must say that I do not find favour with these Amendments that have come from my side of the Committee, because as I have said, I have seen instances of great cruelty by farmers. I have seen the horrible sight of extremely badly wounded and mutilated deer, and I should be very sorry if the subsection did not become law.


It might be helpful at this stage to make two general assumptions because I feel that we are getting a little off the subject. As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, I think that it is a pity that the National Farmers' Union has not tried to define or to put the farmers' case rather more clearly before this debate. I may be wrong, but I think that we are all working on the assumption that all the farmers are gentleman farmers, with a knowledge of wildlife and of the types of shot used in shotguns. The working farmers whom I have come across, and who perhaps cause most of the damage which the Bill is meant to prevent, use a shotgun as a form of protection in their job which gives them a reverence for life, rather than for death. They do not like killing things and they use a shotgun only as protection against the fox or the sheep-worrying dog, and so on.

I speak in support of my noble friend's Amendment, as I think that it would be highly dangerous to try to persuade the farmers, or to force them legally, to enter the world of having to engage in the task of protecting their farm with a rifle, because I do not think that they would take care of it and, generally speaking, I do not think they would make proper use of it. But, far more seriously—and I think this point takes us outside the Bill—I am very concerned that if the Minister of Agriculture has really said that he will support the Bill as it stands and promote and encourage the issue of firearms licences for this purpose, then he can not have discussed this matter fully with the police. This goes against all the evidence put forward by the police on the use of firearms licences as a form of currency. This matter is outside the Bill, but let us make it quite clear that if firearms licences are not taken proper care of—and they will not be by ordinary working farmers, if they happen—


I should like to make a point here. I do not think that the noble Lord was present earlier when I read out letters from the Police Federation and the police superintendents who said that, having studied it in every detail, they support the Bill.


I am sorry I was not present when that was stated, but I am extremely surprised that it has been said, and despite it being said, I would be strongly against the issue of more firearms licences simply because of a Deer Bill. I am concerned about a firearms licence being in the wrong hands. This could result from an ordinary case of breaking and entering or from theft from an ironmonger's shop where such licences are often retained. The theft of a firearms licence gives the right to the illegal holder of the licence, as I understand it, to be able to go to any ironmonger to buy ammunition, and indeed firearms. We are living in dangerous times, and I do not think, and I am not encouraged to think, that this is the right moment to issue more firearms licences with the very excellent motive to kill deer in a gentlemanly and humane way, when by so doing human lives could be greatly endangered.

6.55 p.m.


I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, is under a slight misapprehension about firearms certificates, because the possession of a firearms certificate does not of itself entitle the holder, whether or not he is the authorised holder, to go into a dealer's shop to buy any rifle or firearm which he may choose off the shelf. What it does is to record the firearms which the owner holds, and if there is a variation on it to authorise him to acquire a firearm, then the nature of that firearm is very clearly specified. I am not aware of any instances where the holder of a firearms certificate lodges it with the local ironmonger, or wherever the holder may buy his ammunition. One of the conditions of issue of a firearms certificate is that it should be kept in a secure place, and one would expect the holder to keep it at home.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, mentioned the sponsoring by the National Farmers' Union of applications for firearms certificates. Of course that does not in any way bind the local chief constable to issue a firearms certificate, but it should help the application, in the same way that a member of a rifle club, wishing to apply for a firearms certificate, will get a supporting letter from the secretary of his club. The principle here is exactly the same. I should like to think that a supporting letter from the regional secretary of the National Farmers' Union, in such circumstances, would facilitate the issue of a firearms certificate.

At the same time, one must overcome the natural prejudices of a number of chief constables against the proliferation of rifled weapons within their jurisdiction. I think that I said something to this effect on the Second Reading of the Bill. This is all part of the process of education regarding the use of rifled weapons, which has to be gone through during the interim period while shotguns are being phased out. I hope that by the end of that period we shall have overcome some of those prejudices against the use of rifled weapons, which I am quite convinced is the only humane way of controlling deer.

A shotgun is the most inhumane weapon. Whatever size of shot you choose to use in it, it can inflict the most terrible wounds, and on that ground alone I should advise the Committee not to accept Amendment No. 44 because that retains the size of shot laid down in the Deer Act 1963. That size of shot, commonly known as SSG, is larger than that specified in the Bill. Although, therefore, it is more powerful and has greater striking energy, it is not so effective for use against deer because there are fewer pellets in the shot-charge and therefore you have a much thinner pattern. With SSG, there are 15 pellets to the ounce; with AAA, which is the size specified in this Bill, there are 35 pellets to the ounce. You have to balance the size of the pellet and its striking energy against the density of the pattern. It is a case of two crossing curves, so to speak, and you have to select the optimum size. The British Deer Society, I am told, has conducted some exhaustive experiments against targets with different sizes of shot, and they have concluded from these trials that the size known as AAA, which is specified in the Bill, produces the optimum density of pattern consistent with enough striking energy to kill, or at least disable, a deer. But, even so, the use of small shot I think should be regarded only as a necessary evil until such time as its use can be phased out altogether.

Now we come to the question of the rifled which is a very different matter altogether and produces a worth while alternative to the use of rifled weapons, because it can be used in a shotgun and it can be used safely in a full-choke barrel; and, although a firearms certificate is necessary for the purchase of shotgun cartridges containing a single ball or slug, I think that chief constables might more easily be persuaded to issue a firearms certificate for such a purpose than to issue a firearms certificate for the acquisition of a rifle.

As regards the use in populated areas, again, a shotgun is safe, comparatively speaking, because it has a very limited range with small shot—only about 300 yards. So it is as comparatively safe as it is possible to be with any weapon. The rifle slug, again, has a very limited range because by the very nature of the shape of the bullets—and I can show a specimen of one of those slugs to any noble Lord who is interested—it loses its velocity very rapidly. It has a very limited range, but it has considerable "knock-down" effect; and even if a deer was not hit in a vital spot, it is much more likely to be disabled that it would be if it was shot with small shot.

Rifled weapons of course have a considerable "carry", and their use in populated areas would have to be very carefully controlled. The only safe way is by shooting from what is commonly known as a high seat, where you are shooting down towards the ground and a bullet either missing or passing through an animal will be stopped by the ground. The modern, small-bore, high-velocity rifles are much safer to use in such circumstances than the older, larger-calibre rifles which our forebears used, because the bullets, travelling at a very high velocity, break up on striking the ground or any other obstruction, and are not so likely to ricochet and cause injury to anyone at a distance. So that is really the safest way to use a high-velocity rifle. Those are the main points I wanted to make arising out of this series of Amendments. I hope that my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley will see fit to withdraw his Amendment, and I should very much prefer to see approved certain later Amendments relating to the use of solid slugs.


I have already spoken about firearms certificates, which I think there would be difficulty in getting; and I think there would be great difficulty in deciding which farmers should have one. One farmer will come along and say that he is having a lot of trouble with deer. How many has he seen? He has seen two. Another farmer may have seen far more, or less, or whatever. I think it will be a great problem for chief constables to decide just exactly who is to be given these firearms certificates. I think that many of those who are given certificates anew and who are therefore allowed to buy a rifle will keep them locked away in safe rooms, somehow, and will have to go and get them when required. But in practice, of course, a lot of farmers will keep them as they do their guns, and they will in fact be available for theft. I think this will cause a lot of problems. In practice, also, many farmers will be told that there is a deer in the corn, they will rush to their gun, they will have six-shot only and they will go and shoot at it as they would at a dog chasing a sheep. I think this will happen regardless, and probably does now.

With regard to the slugs which have been mentioned, and which, incidentally, from a gun, are lethal up to 450 yards and accurate up to about 150 yards, I had the good fortune to be asked to shoot boar last summer. There were two sorts of shot used: one was the single slug, and the other was the cartridge with five large pellets. What was interesting was that, as these boar, which each weighed about 16 or 17 stone, were galloping through, the single slugs were usually inaccurately placed because of the speed, whereas the five-shot were quite lethal with a spread of about a foot, and killed immediately. If the farmers are going to crawl up to the deer on their farms and shoot with rifles, as they will have to, the trajectory, as has already been mentioned, will be horizontal and therefore there will be great danger to the public; whereas if they are allowed guns—particularly, in my view, with the large five-shot, or whatever it may be—then there will be a much shorter range with much less danger to the public, and the shot will be much more likely to kill the deer immediately.

7.8 p.m.


I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me to intervene at this stage. I have listened with some considerable care to what has been said, and I had come prepared to say something about the Amendments of my noble friend Lord Northfield, of the noble Viscounts, Lord Mountgarret and Lord Thurso, and of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, notwithstanding the fact that they may not have spoken. We have given very careful consideration to these Amendments, but I could not say what I have to say unless I kept your Lordships here for some appreciable time. My mind goes back to when we were considering dangerous wild animals—guard dogs, and so on—when there was a considerable divergence of opinion in your Lordships' House on these matters and we were able to get together. I am not suggesting that I call your Lordships together, but I am wondering whether this might be the appropriate time to suggest to those noble Lords who have put down Amendments, and to others who feel very strongly on these matters, that it might be possible to get together to see whether something could be hammered out and whether there might perhaps be some consensus. We have done this sort of thing before, with very great profit.

I merely suggest this because I was wondering, having listened to your Lordships, whether we were going to reach a conclusion tonight. I would have thought it extremely difficult, in view of what some noble Lords have said. There is a wide divergence of opinion. I hope your Lordships will not accept this as an instruction; it is meant to be a helpful suggestion, because this is a very important part of the Bill, and, as I say, it might not only serve a useful purpose but might help us in coming to some conclusions which would be acceptable to all noble Lords who are vitally concerned.


May I throw out a suggestion? I think there is power to refer any part of any Bill to a Select Committee, and it might possibly be thought advisable to refer this part of this Bill to a Select Committee.


If I may express a personal opinion to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, I would not want to suggest that. I was thinking of something much less formal—I know Select Committees are not necessarily formal, but it is a Select Committee—whereby we could get together with a number of advisers and, perhaps, some legal authorities and really go into this matter (as we have done, as I said, on previous occasions) with some merit and success.


I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said. I think we are likely to go round in circles over this; there are too many questions left unanswered. One noble Lord says one thing and another says another. They cannot both be right. I think it would be helpful if we could all meet together with come professional people from the Ministry, the NFU and from the police and so on. I think that this would be most helpful.

Viscount THURSO

I, too, feel that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has offered a solution that I would find acceptable. I feel that there has to be an answer to this question, a suitable answer to take into account all the points of view that have been put forward on this matter this afternoon. I should be prepared to play my part in trying to arrive at a solution. I should like to have the fullest possible professional advice available to such a meeting. If this is offered, I should be prepared to withdraw my Amendments until such time as this discussion has taken place.


If there is to be such an inquiry I feel that it would be useful if the NFU could produce some instances of damage. I understand that they have some census form going round at the moment. If they are to have this form sent out, could they ask the farmers concerned how many have already got a firearms certificate?


I think it might be essential in the beginning to have a small group of your Lordships to meet first to determine the kind of procedure. I am a little fearful of an ever-growing committee. I think that much could be done over the telephone or by post. I am concerned about getting, if possible, a consensus of opinion of your Lordships. It is true that we could take advice and probably get some officials present who would be able to give us some help and guidance. Perhaps in the initial stages those concerned with the Amendments, my noble friend Lord Northfield and perhaps myself, could get together to discuss a few dates and, at the same time, the procedure that we are going to adopt.


I fear that I shall strike a slightly discordant note from the somewhat cosy tone that has recently crept into the Chamber. As I understand it, the various interested parties—and I am not one of them—have been chewing over this matter for over a year and they have not yet come to any form of agreement. I understand that there is no possible likelihood of their agreeing in any circumstances. The cleavage of opinion between those who wish to use shotguns for the control of deer and those who do not is complete. As I understand it, no form of negotiation is going to bridge that gulf. Amidst our national political genius when things get difficult, we have a habit of trying to appoint a Committee, a Select Committee, or an unselected committee, to work out a compromise. I do not think there is room for compromise in this particular situation.

I am bound to say that I was very disappointed with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, because I had hoped that we were going to get from him the definitive Home Office view of this matter, which is really a very difficult one. It poses questions of policy, it poses questions of law and it is a matter which is, above all, for the Home Office. It is a matter of regret that more was not forthcoming from him.

I have this further to say. The noble Lord will know that I asked him certain questions a long time ago, a matter of weeks; and no answer, let alone a satisfactory answer, has been forthcoming. It seems to me that there again there is very little room for compromise unless the Home Office is prepared to make up its mind about where it stands and where chief constables are likely to stand over this matter of certificates. Perhaps I could deal with that one. My noble friend Lord Swansea will know better than I that the conditions which govern the issue of firearms certificates and shotgun certificates are totally different. When the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, read out part of a letter from, I think, the Police Federation, saying that they agreed with every facet of the Bill, I am bound to say that I was staggered. If the Police Federation (or whatever body it was) addressed themselves to the likely proliferation of rifles in this country if the Bill goes through as it stands, I cannot believe that they or any police authority would be agreeable to such a prospect.

I myself sit in Scotland as a magistrate and, in a slightly superior court, as an honorary sheriff. Many other noble Lords will have the same kind of experience. Every chief officer of police throughout this country is doing his best to reduce the spread of rifles and handguns. I find it difficult to credit that any responsible police authority would welcome any legislative move which would increase the number of rifles available to the public at large. With the incidence of violent crime we are now facing and the ever-increasing escalation of robberies and the use of firearms in the pursuit of crimes of one kind or another, rightly, I think, in the minds of the general public, most police forces are trying to control them as far as they can and withdraw firearms certificates whenever they get the opportunity to do so. I do not think it will count for anything if a local chief officer of police receives a letter either from the Minister of Agriculture or one of his officers or anybody else. His duty is contained in the Firearms Act 1968 and I have no doubt that all chief officers of police will use that discretion in the way that they think best; and a letter from anybody saying they consider it desirable for a farmer to be given a firearms certificate simply and solely because he wishes to control deer would cause very little reaction on their part.


If my noble friend will allow me, if he makes inquiries I think he will find that very many farmers, probably the majority, already own 0.22 rifles for the control of vermin, for killing rabbits and pigeons and so on, and therefore already have a firearms certificate for that purpose. The variation or the issue of a firearms certificate for deer control is a simple extension of that principle.


I cannot deal with such a sweeping statement. I do not know the incidence of farmers with 0.22 rifles. I do not think my noble friend knows, either. It does not help our deliberations very much, I suggest, to make that sort of statement.


If my noble friend Lord Mansfield will allow me, I have been trying for some minutes to furnish this bit of information. I was talking to the Deputy President of the NFU last week on this whole vexed question. I understood from him that he had approached many local police forces to get their views on what their attitude would be if a farmer applied to them for a firearms certificate for a rifle in order to control deer eating their crops—the point that my noble friend and other noble Lords have been talking about. He had not had replies from all the police forces approached, but at the time I saw him, which was five days ago, those police forces who had replied said that they believed that that would constitute a good and proper cause for granting a firearms certificate to a farmer.

7.20 p.m.


I am very grateful to my noble friend, too, for regaling us with his conversation with whoever it was. But this should have come from the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. Do not misunderstand me. The noble Lord is the Home Office Minister; he is supposed to tell us what is the attitude of the police to this. It should not come from conversations which my noble friend has had with some colleagues or friends in respect of other matters.

I was going to tell the Committee of the two sections which govern the issue of certificates to do with rifles and shotguns, but I think I will try to get on. What this matter comes back to is what an owner or occupier of land is to make of his rights as an occupier in the control of deer. I concede at once—and I have no specialized knowledge of these matters—that the use of a shotgun is undesirable in itself. What one has to balance that against—


May I interrupt the noble Earl? He said he thought that the use of a shotgun was undesirable. Why is it that up until recently he has been using a shotgun on his own estate for roe deer?


I never said that I did.


No, but the noble Earl has been using one.


If we are going to become thoroughly personal, the only shotgun which was used on my estate was on a piece of land taken by a syndicate in which the local secretary of the Deer Society was a member. May I say that I deplore my noble friend introducing such personalities into this argument, especially as it is outside the jurisdiction of this Bill. However, I deal with it as I find it.

Now, may I try to get hack to some semblance of order. What is the balance of priorities of this matter? Is it the admittedly unsatisfactory use of the shotgun as against the rifle, with its greater danger to the public, especially in congested areas, and with the possibilities of its misuse as a weapon? Here again the Committee has to make up its mind. So far as the four packages are concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, regaled us, I do not see the difference between five and 10 years. It could be that more people would be trained to use rifles who could then provide some sort of a deer control service. That would seem to make sense. It might, I suppose, allow farmers to take courses in using rifles, and thereby persuade their local chief constables that they were suitable persons to have a high velocity rifle. But I do not see the difference between five and 10 years.

As a matter of politics and law, I should have thought that it was undesirable to peer forward 10 years into the future and say that this is something which will definitely happen at the expiration of a ten-year period. Parliament tried that with the gaming laws, particularly, as some noble Lords may recollect, over the "spot the ball" competition. It was an extremely unsatisfactory exercise because at the end of the period when everybody thought that that particular form of gaming would be phased out, it was not, and it was producing so much money for charity that a new Bill had to be brought in to extend the period.

If the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, had introduced an Amendment or had introduced his Bill in a way that it would be up to the Home Secretary, in effect, to trigger off the change in the law by issuing an order, that is something which one would consider extremely seriously because it then would mean that Parliament would be in control of the situation, acting on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown. But to say that after 10 years, come hell or high water, the use of a shotgun is forbidden by law is not the best way of dealing with the problem.

We are left in this unsatisfactory situation: what do we do? I suppose everybody could withdraw his Amendments and have a new attempt on Report stage. The difficulty about that is one can speak only once on Report and it is difficult to have other than a thoroughly formal debate. I suppose that other alternatives would be to accept one or other of the four packages as they stand and try to improve them on Report. For myself, I would prefer to do something rather than nothing. I have to confess to having an interest as a farmer, although not in England and Wales. But, for myself, I will support my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, but— thank goodness!—this is not a Party matter and it will be for every noble Lord to do what he thinks best.

7.26 p.m.


I have listened to the debate and I regret that the suggestion by my noble friend on the Front Bench has apparently not been found acceptable. I hope it will be. The noble Earl who has just spoken has introduced one more possibility that I floated in the conversations that I have been having; namely, that this clause should be triggered by a Government Order in Council at an appropriate stage. One has to consider what advice the Minister would take in triggering off such a thing. That means that the piece of machinery he may need to have must be considered. It shows very clearly, from that one example above, that there is a good deal still to be explored in the way of reaching a possible compromise in this matter. I would therefore happily agree to withdraw my Amendments and leave the whole question quite open, not trying to insist even on the words as drafted in the Bill, if other noble Lords will also agree to withdraw their Amendments. Then we should accept the advice of my noble friend and return to this matter at Report stage after an attempt to get some agreement.

Although I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, when he reads his remarks in Hansard tomorrow he will find that the early part of his speech did not do him much credit. He made very sweeping statements about what chief constables would or would not do. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, he said he could not deal with sweeping statements that other people had made. Then when he was given particular examples by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, he said: "I will not even answer that; that should have been answered by the Minister". At the end of that exchange I did not feel, with great respect, that the noble Earl had done himself much credit. It only illustrates the fact that we are in a quandary.

The consultations I have been having so far I have been having openly, honestly and at great length. They have not reached the point of agreement. At least we made some progress: we got away from the shotgun as normally used, to the idea of the rifle slug; and to the idea of something which was big enough to be used against red deer. We achieved a form of amendment to allow deer drives to take place. Those were three ideas of great importance to the National Farmers' Union. It showed that in three out of four issues we made considerable progress towards reaching agreement with the NFU. I reject the statement being made here that it is impossible to get agreement. If we made that much progress on three major issues of concern to the NFU, I do not see why we cannot try to settle the remainder of the disagreements.


I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way? While he was on his feet an idea came to me which may get round this difficulty and preserve the rather satisfactory state—that is to say, a Committee stage—which the House is in. It is now half past seven. There is nothing to stop the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, from moving that this House do now resume, and the whole matter will be adjourned. The conversations which the noble Lord may feel appropriate can then take place and the House can come back and reconsider these matters. We have the four main packages. We have not taken any irrevocable step, and I suggest to the noble Lord that this might be something he might favourably consider.


I am in the hands of the Committee, but I am in a further difficulty in that several noble Lords have come here to move particular Amendments—for example, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, wants to talk about Northern Ireland—and there is also the fact that many of the Amendments that remain are purely drafting Amendments and could be dealt with speedily. I am therefore in some difficulty in accepting that suggestion, because it might cause some inconvenience to certain noble Lords.

Also, I cannot quite see what advantage would be gained, because the discussions that we have talked about could easily take place by leaving the Bill as it is and with nobody pressing their Amendments. The Amendments in question could then possibly be discussed during the Report stage. So what would be the particular advantage in postponing completely, to the inconvenience of people who have come here specially to speak to Amendments today, the remainder of the Bill when the Amendments could be dealt with not only on Report stage but on Third Reading, if we do not reach agreement? Therefore, unless other noble Lords feel it to be essential, I would still press my view that we should leave the Bill as it is, we could start the consultations, and we could then go on to Report stage and Third Reading. But at least we should satisfy the convenience of noble Lords who have come here to discuss the few remaining Amendments which could be got out of the way today.


I think the advantage which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has in mind is that if we were to adjourn now and come back to it, we should come hack in Committee and have a fuller and freer discussion, again in Committee. If we were to come back on Report, there would be much stricter rules of procedure.


The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, said that we had made tremendous progress this afternoon. I do not wish to be argumentative about it, but in some ways I do not think we have made all that amount of progress. The noble Lord indicated that we had covered the subject concerning deer drives. In fact, that subject has not been raised and, of course, it has not been discussed. The idea of re-introducing deer drives has not been discussed. Therefore, I think there is much merit in calling a halt to proceedings and letting us have the discussions, as the noble Lord Lord Wells-Pestell, has suggested.

Viscount THURSO

I am not at all sure that I want to call a halt to the proceedings. We have made some progress, but we have identified certain problems. We are in fact discussing primarily one of my Amendments, and I should like a wink or a nod from the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, or the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, as to whether the Amendment we are discussing—that is, No. 43—is also within the province of the proposed discussion, because this particular Amendment is the one which exempts farmers from the restriction on times at which they shoot, and will allow them to shoot at first light, at last light and by moonlight, which I think may well be important as regards the protection of crops. I do not know whether this topic could be included in the discussions, but certainly I should like it to be so included, and would be prepared to withdraw this Amendment if the matter could be discussed, with a view to its possible reintroduction at a later stage of the Bill.

As regards the rest of our deliberations, it is not for me to say whether or not the noble Lord. Lord Stanley of Alderley, presses his Amendment, No. 44. That is a matter for him. If he should have his Amendment accepted, I gather that all the following Amendments fail—certainly my following Amendment would fail, and the Amendment of the noble Lord would go through. If he does not get it and my Amendment is still available to your Lordships' Committee, I would certainly wish to avail myself of the opportunity suggested by the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, hacked up by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that we might discuss the whole matter on the grounds that we are nearing some sort of agreement.

The agreement we are nearing is this—and I shall be corrected if I am wrong—namely, that there is a danger in giving out too many firearms certificates. It may not be thought as totally desirable as some chief constables may think. But the matter ought to be looked into. It is possible that a load of shotgun cartridges could be found which would be satisfactory for the purpose, and it is possible that farmers could be allowed to use that within certain restricted spheres. I should like to hear whether it is possible. If my later Amendment is reached, I would probably withdraw it in the face of an assurance of this kind, but in the meantime I can say to your Lordships' Committee that I am prepared to withdraw my Amendment No. 43.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.36 p.m.

Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 8, line 31, leave out subsection (7) and insert—

("(7) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 3(1)(c)(i) of this Act by reason only of the taking or killing or attempted taking or killing of any deer on any land by means of shooting with any smooth bore gun of 12 bore gauge loaded with a cartridge purporting to contain shot each of which is not less in diameter than 269 inches (6.8326 millimetres) in diameter if he satisfies the court before whom he is charged—

  1. (a) that he was the occupier of the land; or
  2. (b) that he was acting with the written authority of the occupier.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 44.


I must say I think this is being extremely unreasonable in view of all the suggestions that have been made in the Committee—

Several noble Lords: Order!


I have a right to say that to the noble Lord. I think it is being unreasonable to press this Amendment in view of the fact that we have offered all the consultations possible to try to reach agreement. I have shown that we have reached agreement on major points with the National Farmers' Union. I think this will sour the future progress of the Bill, no matter what happens. We have offered all possible consultations to reach agreement on this matter. I repeat that the noble Lord's Amendment is going back even beyond what is in the 1963 Act. It is even taking away the necessity for the farmer to show that the deer are doing damage to the crops. I think the noble Lord is being extremely unreasonable in wanting to go back even beyond the law as it stands at the moment and in not allowing the consultations to take place.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in what he has just said. With a very deep interest in the subject that we have been discussing for the last hour or so, both as regards my connection with the Deer Society and as a farmer and forester, I feel quite sure that we are barking up the wrong tree if we try to perpetuate the use of the shotgun without fully arguing the case at greater length between ourselves. There is a deep division of feeling. My personal view is that the rifle is not only the most humane method of controlling deer, but it is the best method from the point of view of the farmer. However, it is going to take a long time to get that across to the farming community. I support most strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has asked of my noble friend Lord Stanley, and I hope that he will reconsider the statement he made a few moments ago.


May I support entirely what my noble friend Lord Dulverton has just said. I was clearly under the impression that we were discussing, generally speaking, Amendments Nos. 43 to 55. At no time have we been specific on any one particular Amendment, and for the noble Lord suddenly to put forward his Amendment just like that, at a moment when that Amendment is not being discussed in detail, seems to me a little wrong. I am being corrected by my noble friends on the Front Bench, and I apologise.


No: go on discussing it.


I am sorry: I thought the Question was about to be put.


No; we have got all night. Go on.


I apologise. I thought when the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, got up that the Question was about to be put and that we were not in fact discussing it. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dulverton, as I said, that the rifle certainly is much the most effective weapon for dealing with deer. We are not, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, taking weapons away from farmers at all. In fact, we are helping them by getting them the right weapons to do their job. As regards security, I believe that more shotguns are stolen and sawn-off and used for criminal acts, such as breaking into banks and so on, than rifles, and if there was a choice between rifles or shotguns being kept in farmhouses, possibly at times unattended, I should prefer to see rifles unattended than shotguns. But I may be wrong about that. So I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Stanley does not press his Amendment.


May I make a brief point? I recently had consultations with a senior officer of police, in an area where they are considerably troubled by deer poaching, and he told me that in suitable cases a chief constable will readily give a firearms certificate to a farmer in order to control deer poaching.


The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has himself been a little unreasonable in attacking my noble friend Lord Mansfield. My noble friend made what I thought was a perfectly reasonable suggestion to the noble Lord, that we should adjourn at this point, have all the consultations that we are going to have and then come back, still in Committee, so that we can discuss whatever comes out of those consultations. My noble friends Lord Dulverton and Lord Mountgarret both said that they rather agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that my noble friend was being unreasonable. But this is reason, surely. In Report stage, we cannot properly discuss some brand-new solution that is going to emerge. If we adjourn the Committee at this stage, we shall still be in Committee and can then give proper consideration to whatever comes out of the consultations suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield.


May I say this in answer? The noble Lord, Lord Denham, whose help on this Bill I fully appreciate, has misunderstood the situation. What I am saying is that it is slightly unreasonable to other noble Lords, who want to complete the remaining Parts of this Bill and who have come here specially today to do so, to chop it off at this point, particularly in view of the fact that the Bill can be recommitted to a Committee at any time. I gladly give my undertaking that, if the consultations that take place mean that we need to come back into Committee after completing the remainder of the Bill tonight, I will move a Motion that the Bill be recommitted to a Committee in due course, in order to examine this Part of the Bill. That is a Motion which can go on the Order Paper, and I think it meets everybody's convenience and allows us to dispose of the remainder of the Bill this evening and have a recommittal to a Committee at a later stage.

7.52 p.m.

Lord NORTHFIELD had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 45: Page 8, line 37, leave out from ("offence") to ("under") in line 32.

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I do not propose to move Amendment No. 45. Despite the vote that we have just had, I still think that consultations should take place between now and the Report stage. Therefore I hope that we can carry on as though this unfortunate misunderstanding, or whatever it is, had not occurred.

Viscount THURSO had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 47: Page 8, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 9 and insert ("deer, by means of shooting with any smooth bore gun of 12 bore gauge loaded with a cartridge purporting to contain shot each of which is 203 inches (5.2 millimetres) in diameter, on any cultivated land, pasture or enclosed woodland of which he is the occupier.")

The noble Viscount said: Before we went into the Division Lobbies I said that if the same atmosphere prevailed I should also like to have consultations. Therefore I do not intend to move Amendment No. 47.

7.43 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 44) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 20.

Colville of Culross, V. Hacking, L. Margadale, L.
De Freyne, L. Long, V. Stanley of Alderley, L. [Teller.]
Denham, L. Lyell, L. Sudeley, L.
Elles, B. Macleod of Borve, B. Tanlaw, L.
Falkland, V. Mansfield, E. Thurso, V. [Teller.]
Ferrier, L.
Airedale, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Mottistone, L.
Brookeborough, V. Hylton-Foster, B. Mountgarret, V.
Burton, L. [Teller.] Inglewood, L. Northfield, L. [Teller]
de Clifford, L. Kilbracken, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dormer, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dulverton, L. Longford, E. Swansea, L.
Gisborough, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 56: Page 9, line 6, leave out subsection (8).

The noble Lord said: I can be very brief. If it is convenient to the Committee this Amendment can be taken with Amendment No. 63. It is designed to meet a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, at Second Reading. I apologise to the noble Earl for not fully understanding at Second Reading what he said—it was my fault entirely—about the definition of a slaughtering instrument. I hope that the two points taken together—Amendments Nos. 56 and 63—now carry out the intention, which is to license a sawn-off shotgun for the purpose of slaughtering after deer hunting. I beg to move.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I do not mind being accused of speaking nonsense, but it is nice when it is rectified later.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 57: Page 9, line 23, leave out ("the") and insert ("a").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 58:

Transpose Clause 18 to after Clause 15.

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting point. I am advised by the experts that it would be more convenient if this clause were taken after Clause 15. Therefore I beg to move that Clause 18 be transposed.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Power to grant licences]:

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 59: Page 9, line 37, at end insert ("Secretary of State after considering the advice of the").

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment, and Amendment No. 61, deal with the same point. It may be true that at the moment the Nature Conservancy Council do not carry out any large-scale, continuous experiments on deer in England similar to the experiments which they carry out on the Island of Rum in Scotland. However, it seems to me to be an anomaly that, if they were to start to carry out experiments, they would then be put into the position of licensing their own activities. We ought to consider whether or not even the Nature Conservancy Council should be required to ask for permission to carry out experiments. I should prefer permission to be given by the Secretary of State after considering the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council, so that if and when it comes to a question of the Nature Conservancy Council wishing to license itself to carry out experiments, it is relieved of the slightly invidious job of having to license its own activities. That is the reason why I put down these two Amendments.

7.59 p.m.


I think that I ought to say a word about the Government's view. The Amendments are designed to give licensing powers in respect of certain otherwise unlawful activities affecting deer to the Secretary of State who, as we understand it, would be obliged to consider the advice of the Nature Conservancy Council. Under the Bill, the Nature Conservancy Council alone would have licensing powers. At present, the Nature Conservancy Council has the power to license otherwise unlawful acts in respect of deer so as to enable them to be moved from one area to another, or to be taken alive for scientific or educational purposes. The Bill retains the purpose of the licensing power but adjusts the licensable activities in the light of the offences created by the Bill.

During the Second Reading debate I understood the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, to question the correctness of leaving the licensing power with the Nature Conservancy Council when so many of the licensable activities were performed by the Council's employees. I assume that the noble Viscount believes that this situation can be corrected by transferring the power to the Secretary of State and restricting the Nature Conservancy Council to an advisory function. It is not quite clear to us—but I accept that this is a matter which could be easily ascertainable—which Secretary of State it would be. I do not know whether the noble Viscount has a Secretary of State in mind. Presumably it would be the Secretary of State for the Environment—the Nature Conservancy Council's sponsoring Department—who would have a wider conservation remit.

On the other hand, I suppose there is a possibility that applications for licences might be put elsewhere. The Nature Conservancy Council has been operating a licensing system since 1963, and there is no evidence that it does so other than impartially and in accordance with sound criteria. May I ask the noble Viscount whether he feels that it is necessary to change the situation. At the same time, the licensing provisions under the existing law are curious and their expansion by the Bill either adds to or enlarges what I think is an oddity.

The NCC is not an appropriate organisation for the purpose of exercising this power. At the same time it is not a power which the Government would wish to exercise, not least for the reason that the promotors have never succeeded in persuading us that the licensing provisions serve a useful purpose, or precisely what purpose it is that they are intended to serve. Undoubtedly they need much closer investigation than they have so far received, and to the extent that this Amendment prompts such an investigation I am bound to say that in some respects it has a great deal to commend it. However, the solution would be nothing like so simple as the transfer of a licensing power to a Minister. Before that could be accepted the purposes of the provision would need to be clarified and made more acceptable. I do not know whether the noble Viscount wants to rethink this issue, or whether he feels strongly enough to press it. I would say that there is an argument either way and it may well be something that he wants to be considered.

Viscount THURSO

I do want it to be considered because I have absolutely no criticism of the Nature Conservancy Council. I do not think they have in any way misused their powers and I am sure they do not intend to misuse them, but I feel that the interest which this Bill has aroused, and the interest which exists in deer, will possibly prompt further experimentation. It may well prompt the Nature Conservancy Council, or some other body in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy Council, to wish to carry out experiments on deer management in England similar to those carried out on the Island of Rum. It is invidious to be put into the position where one issues one's own licences. It seems only right that such a council should look to somebody for a licence for an activity which they probably ought to be doing.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, would welcome my pressing this Amendment at this stage, or whether he would like to enter into further discussions on this matter. Clearly, in referring to the Secretary of State I had in mind the Secretary of State for the Department which is responsible for nature conservancy for the time being, but I inderstand that the term "Secretary of State" is acceptable as a general term for all Government Departments and therefore I used that term.


Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to look at it and before Report stage I will let him know our views so that if he wants to table the Amendment again he may do so. On the other hand, if we find that it will serve a useful purpose but there is some drafting matter to be considered, we could table it ourselves.

Viscount THURSO

I am grateful to the noble Lord and, with the permission of the Committe, I beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 60: Page 10, line 6, leave out ("in the close season prescribed by Schedule 1 to") and insert ("in circumstances which, but for this section, would constitute an offence under section 1 of").

The noble Lord said: This is purely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


There are two Amendments numbered 63. I call the first one.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved the following Amendment: Page 10, line 26, after ("under") insert ("Part I of").

The noble Lord said: This is purely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Interpretation]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved the following Amendment: Page 11, line 12, at end insert ("and, for purposes of this Act, includes any smooth bore gun of not less gauge than 12 bore, if its barrel is less than 24 inches (609.6 millimetres) in length and it is loaded with a cartridge purporting to contain shot none of which is less than .203 inches (5.2 millimetres) in diameter;").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this Amendment when moving Amendment No. 56. Therefore I beg to move formally.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 [Application to Crown]:

On Question, Whether Clause 22 shall stand part of the Bill?


I hope we can agree to delete this clause. The clause would bind the Crown, and my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell said during the Second Reading debate that it would be unacceptable. He has since written to me in the following terms: There can be no question of the Crown instructing any of its servants to carry out their function in such a way as to contravene the provisions of this Bill if it becomes law. To put the matter beyond doubt I give you an assurance to this effect. With an assurance of that kind, of course we do not need Clause 22 and therefore I hope we may agree to negative the clause.

On Question, Clause 22 disagreed to.

Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH moved Amendment No. 64:

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Application to Northern Ireland.

.—(1) In the application of this Act to Northern Ireland section 20(1) shall be omitted and the other provisions shall have effect subject to the following modifications—

  1. (a) for any reference to the Secretary of State, there shall be substituted a reference to the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland;
  2. (b) for the reference in section 12 to the Game Act 1831 and the Game Licences Act 1860, there shall be substituted a reference to the Miscellaneous Transferred Excise Duties Act (Northern Ireland) 1972;
  3. (c) for any reference in section 15(2) to the chief officer of police, there shall be substituted a reference to a chief superintendent of the Royal Ulster Constabulary attached to the police division in which the certificate was granted;
  4. (d) for the reference in section 17(5) to a requirement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under section 98 of the Agriculture Act 1947, there shall be substituted a reference to any scheme made by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland under section 2 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1959;
  5. (e) for any reference in section 19 to the Nature Conservancy Council, there shall be substituted a reference to the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland;
  6. (f) for any reference in section 21 to the Firearms Act 1968, and for the reference to section 57(4) of that Act, there shall be substituted respectively, references to the Firearms Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 and a reference to section 50(1) of that Act.

(2) The power of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland to make orders under this Act shall be exercisable by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules Act (Northern Ireland) 1958; and any statutory rule made by virtue of this Act shall be subject to negative resolution within the meaning of section 41(6) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 as if it were a statutory instrument within the meaning of that Act.

The noble Viscount said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 65, 77, 79 and 80 as well as to No. 64. These Amendments arise by reason of the fact that in Northern Ireland we no longer have a devolved Government. At this hour of the night I think a long speech would be most unwelcome, but suffice it to say that the only law which controlled the killing of deer in Northern Ireland was repealed 20 years ago. That was the 1698 Act, so your Lordships can see that we are in a fairly powerless plight when one Act was repealed and nothing was put in its place. In fact, there is no control over the killing of deer in Northern Ireland. They can be killed by dogs, by snares or by any means, so if this Bill is to be enacted we in Northern Ireland must have it applied to us, otherwise we shall be the only part of the British Isles without a Bill concerning the control of deer. I beg to move.


I am sorry that the noble Viscount has been kept here so late, because at this stage I really cannot do very much to help him. We are aware that these Amendments would apply the Bill to Northern Ireland, and, as the noble Viscount knows, those in Northern Ireland who are likely to be affected are farmers, the Department of the Environment and the Agricultural Department. The only thing I can say is that the Northern Ireland Office are considering the matter about which the noble Viscount has tabled Amendments, but so far they have not reached a decision. However, I understand that a decision is likely to be reached by Report stage and if there is anything I can say which will be helpful to the noble Viscount between now and Report stage I will communicate with him.


I thank the noble Lord very much. If this Bill becomes law it is important that it should apply to Northern Ireland. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 23 and 24 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Close seasons]:

8.9 p.m.

Viscount THURSO moved Amend-ment No. 66: Page 12, line 5, leave out ("1st May to 21st July") and insert ("21st October to 30th June").

The noble Viscount said: The Amendments which are listed in relation to Schedule 1 are an effort to try to get some uniformity between the two sides of the Border between England and Scotland. It is not merely that one side should follow what the other does; it is that there are very large numbers of deer on both sides of the Border, close to the Border. This is particularly true of roe deer inhabiting a lot of the afforested land on each side of the Border. If you have a season of one sort on one side of the Border and regulations of one sort on one side and another sort on the other side, it seems to me an open invitation for people to find ways round the regulations. It would be very desirable if greater uniformity could be obtained between the seasons on both sides of the Border.

I have heard it said that there is difficulty in reaching agreement with the powers that be in Scotland in this matter. I am frankly surprised to hear this, because I have spoken about this matter to both the chairman and the secretary of the Red Deer Commission and as far as I know they are anxious to help if they can. I know that we have at least one member of the Red Deer Commission sitting with us in this Committee in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton. I think it is a great pity that there should be a difference between the seasons because this will encourage problems on each side of the Border. I can envisage things being taken across in order to be sold, if they are saleable on one side and not saleable on the other. I am prepared again to put these matters to further discussion because I really believe that accommodation could be reached. I should like to hear what other members of your Lordships' Committee have to say on this. I really believe we ought to be able to reach agreement on this problem, taking into account the requirements on both sides of the Border.


I would agree in the main with the noble Viscount on this matter. I am sure we can reach agreement. But the first of these particular Amendments would not be acceptable in England, the 21st October being the closing date for stags. I feel that his suggestion that this should be discussed between Committee and Report stage is the right answer. I would hope your Lordships would agree. Perhaps we could make a new Schedule rather than deal with it by individual Amendments as we have proposed here at the moment.


I am not very happy with the Amendment the noble Viscount has moved. There is a problem relating to the staghounds. If we had the close season as suggested that would not be very helpful to the Devon and Somerset staghounds. I do not really think it is so important that we should have similar close seasons. We are only thinking of the Border. I do not think it should affect Lancashire, the Home Counties, Devon and so on. I do not see that we shall gain a great deal. Life will be made more difficult for farmers in England to deal with their deer if they have to spend most of the year trying to prove that there are always marauding deer and therefore they can be taken out of season. I do not think this suggestion is entirely helpful. I would have thought it better to leave matters as they stand.


Perhaps I can help the Committee by saying this. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland pressing that the dates be brought more into line. I have in my hand a copy of Mr. Bruce Millan's reply. He says that he has not received any pressure from the Red Deer Commission and other bodies to make any changes in Scotland. He goes on to say: I am not at this stage persuaded that there are over-riding reasons for bringing the close seasons in the two countries into line". In view of that statement by the Secretary of State, that he does not think there is any particular reason for bringing them into line, it would be helpful if between now and Report stage the noble Viscount would work on his own colleagues in Scotland to see whether there is any reason to say to the Minister that there is pressure to bring them into line, in which case he would be able to press the matter at Report stage.


Perhaps the Committee would like to know that we considered this point at the Red Deer Commission meeting last week. On the point of the red deer seasons, after much discussion it appeared that there were very good reasons for keeping the seasons exactly as they are now in Scotland. We realised there were very good reasons for having the seasons in England as proposed in the Bill. I will not refer to the comments, which were inconclusive, about the other forms of deer, but that was the result of the deliberations on red deer.


It seems to me that the main deer concerned is the roe deer, which, to the best of my knowledge, is the main deer of the Borders. I should have thought there was a very good case for trying to cover roe deer, if no other.


Can the noble Lord let us know whether the Secretary of State had the question presented in the form of red deer, or roe deer, or all deer? I agree about the situation with red deer, but I should be surprised that the Secretary of State should take such a strong view if he was presented with the question of roe deer. I believe there is a case for looking at them separately.


That is a very fair point. The Minister did say—and I quote in order to be helpful: The divergence between the dates for roe deer covers only a small proportion of the total close times for the species, and in the absence of any strong arguments against the dates which have been in operation in Scotland for the past 10 years or so I doubt whether I would be justified in opening up this issue with the various interests who would have to take part in further discussions". In other words, he is saying that the roe deer issue is such a small one that he does not feel able to open the whole issue of all deer. To answer the noble Lord, I think the question was put in the right form to the Secretary of State. I think this is a matter the noble Viscount might want to take up in his discussions in Scotland.


I intervene only to say that if the noble Viscount is prepared to do that, which I think might be helpful at this stage, and if he does decide to put forward the matter again, I should perhaps point out that the first and the fourth of these Amendments should have the date 31st July in both cases and not the 21st.

Viscount THURSO

I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been somewhat less than helpful in this matter, because it has been my experience that he has sent no information whatever to the Red Deer Commission. Most of their information on what was happening in your Lordships' House came from me sending them photostatic copies of information which I had on Amendments and so forth. I have sent copies of Hansard to the Secretary and Chairman of the Red Deer Commission to make sure that they knew what was going on. I do not think that the Secretary of State and his Department have been all that speedy in sending up the information from Edinburgh to Inverness so that it could be considered by the Red Deer Commission.

I feel that it has been valuable to talk about this. I will certainly keep up the pressure on this matter, because I think there will be difficulty on the Border. If you once start to get an Act into disrepute, it is very difficult to stop the malpractices that may arise. It should be our intention at this stage to try to get things right in the first instance. At this late hour I will do no more than say that I will certainly continue to press every authority I know in Scotland on this matter. I will withdraw the Amendment, and I hope it may be possible to bring at least some of them back at Report stage so that we can obtain useful uniformity.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Prohibited firearms and ammunition]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 73:

Page 12, line 30, at end insert— ("5A. Any weapon which discharges a missile by means of a gas propellant").

The noble Lord said: This is a new point which has been brought to our notice as a form of weapon that should be prohibited under the Bill. It is self-explanatory. I hope that it will not cause any difficulties. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 74: Page 12, line 36, after ("than") insert ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 74 and 75. Amendment No. 74 is a drafting Amendment, as is Amendment No. 75. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 75: Page 12, line 38, leave out ("9. Any bullet for use in a rifle other than") and insert ("(b)").

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Form of record of purchases and receipts of venison to be kept by licensed game dealers]:

Lord DORMER moved Amendment No. 76: Page 13, line 11, in column 13, at end insert ("and registration number of vehicle delivering venison.").

The noble Lord said: I have been advised by a senior member of the police that the powers given to them under the Bill as printed are entirely adequate but that they would very much prefer to see the registration number of the vehicle delivering the venison to the dealer inserted in the last column of Schedule 3. That is to enable the police to check on the vehicle in future, if necessary. It would also be a protection to the person delivering the venison.

Viscount THURSO

I am rather sceptical about this Amendment. Anyone who is at all crooked or bent can simply falsify the registration number. I do not think that it is an enormously helpful piece of information.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, in the sense that if falsification is at issue, such people can do it in any other part of this draft form. One must assume that falsification will not apply right across the form. This is an additional precaution in order to check the origin of venison and it is a very helpful one. I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dormer.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Enactments repealed]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 78:

Page 14, line 5, at end insert—

("1977 c. 4. The Roe Deer (Close Seasons) Act. The whole Act.")

The noble Lord said: This small Amendment is in anticipation of the Bill one day becoming law, although at this stage of the proceedings, after a tiring day, one begins to doubt that slightly. However, in the event of the Bill becoming law it would be necessary to repeal the Roe Deer (Close Seasons) Act because this Bill, when it becomes law, would then supersede that Act. Therefore, the Amendment is to that purpose. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.