HL Deb 22 February 1977 vol 380 cc85-160

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I am very conscious that in this debate I cannot for a moment match the knowledge and experience of many Members of your Lordships' House in their study of deer, the problem of their management and the knowledge of their habits. Already I am very grateful to many noble Lords for their friendly counsel and advice and, as I have gone about your Lordships' House, for the offers which have been made to me many times to meet me after the Second Reading of the Bill, if a Second Reading is given to it today, to try to get an agreed Bill at Committee stage. I wish to emphasise from the very beginning that an agreed Bill is my aim and the aim of many Members of your Lordships' House who support its Second Reading.

This is a Bill for England and Wales. It re-enacts, amends and strengthens the Deer Act 1963. I want to make it clear from the very beginning that the Bill should in no sense be interpreted as an attack on stag hunting, which still takes place in certain parts of the country. I understand that no attempt will be made during the passage of the Bill to raise the issue of stag hunting and get it written into the Bill. It would be a foolhardy exercise to try to do so. If there were such an attempt, perhaps in another place, I am sure, from testing the water in this House, that the Amendment would be rejected here and that the whole Bill would be lost. As I say, it would be a rather stupid exercise because, judging from the comments which have been made to me, I believe that most Members of your Lordships' House want the principal provisions of the Bill to become law.

Therefore the Bill is not an attack on stag hunting; nor is it unduly restrictive about what is done, with the authority of the owner, on private land. The Bill helps, not hinders, the process of management and the proper culling of deer. It is not a sentimental Bill, designed to claim that deer are a threatened species which need very special legislation in order to save them. It is none of those things. Its purpose is to prevent poaching and the intensely cruel killing of deer by poachers. This activity has now escalated into big business in this country and has increased the cruelty of poaching because of the value of the carcases which are being taken, and it is leading to open lawlessness by gangs who threaten the safety of people who go about the lawful job of trying to safeguard and manage deer. The central purpose of the Bill is to prevent poaching.

May I make one preliminary point about the detailed provisions of the Bill. I understand, and I shall be very interested to listen to comments about it, that there are doubts about Clause 4 which deals with creating an offence of trespass in pursuit of deer. Also, I understand that there are some doubts, although I should not like to say how great they are, about Part III of the Bill, which sets up a system for the control of sales of venison through the existing system of licensed game dealers. I shall deal with those two matters in a preliminary way.

May I say right away that I hope that the critics of these two cardinal features of the Bill will reflect upon the fact that these provisions are already part of the law of Scotland. They are not new, untried provisions which are being introduced into the corporate law of this country. The provisions are similar, but they are not totally identical. However, the principle contained in these two provisions exists in Scottish law, in the Deer (Scotland) Act and in the Sale of Venison (Scotland) Act. Therefore I hope that any criticism will be tempered by the fact that these provisions are working in another part of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, I hope that anybody who criticises these two provisions of the Bill will look at the extent to which our present law concerning these matters is way behind that of other European countries. If one takes the offences of night shooting, the close season, venison regulations, the firearms regulations and police game keeper powers, my researches lead me to believe that we are far behind Norway, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Holland, Belgium and Austria but that perhaps we are less far behind France and Switzerland. As the law exists at the moment, we have no good record to call on.

I come now to the Bill and the consultations which preceded it. First, at least 30 separate bodies have been consulted on the drafting of the Bill, which has taken place over several years. It is not new, hastily thought up drafting. I pay my particular tribute to Mr. Hotchkis, the Parliamentary activist, if I may so describe him, of the British Deer Society who has helped in every way with the drafting of this Bill—although it is not, of course, a British Deer Society Bill. The Home Office has been fully consulted at every stage; so also have other Government Departments, including the Ministry of Defence relating to lands owned by them. The Forestry Commission and the British Field Sports Society have been consulted. The police have been particularly questioned on the proposal to prohibit the use of shotguns. The RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports and the Country Landowners' Association have been consulted. The National Farmers' Union who, I know, have written to many Members of your Lord ships' House, have been consulted, but they make it clear at the very beginning of their circular that they are in favour of the principles underlying the Bill. The Game Conservancy have also been consulted, and so have other bodies. The list is very long indeed. There has been consistent support for improving the Deer Act 1963 in journals such as Country Life, The Field, and so on. If I may say so to your Lordships, I think it has a very respectable pedigree even before we come to discuss its details.

Then what is the particular need for the Bill? The changes in the situation since 1963 form the need for the Bill. Deer have spread. There are at least something like 70,000, at a very rough estimate, in England. The legitimate annual cull of deer is about 17,000 but the best estimate that can be made of the illegal cull is about 5,000, although it is probably far more. In addition of course there are many legitimately killed by farmers who find them marauding crops, and a number are killed on the roads by cars. But if we look at the trade in illegal venison we shall find that it is becoming very big business indeed. That, then, is the first reason for the Bill—the change in the numbers of deer and the change in the amount of killing by poaching.

Secondly, since 1963 the habits of deer have been more clearly understood. Management is now known to be essential. Local deer societies in their culling work actually give the carcases to landowners—they are not trying to get a monopoly of shooting and keeping the carcases. These societies have grown, the trained stalkers have grown in numbers; the whole possibility of managing in a proper way has grown. Thirdly, national appreciation of deer as part of our natural environment has grown since 1963 and we can no longer allow indiscriminate killing of what is now regarded as an animal which is at least to some extent to be protected as part of our natural environment.

The fourth reason is the precise point which I made at the beginning—the alarming increase in poaching, the threats to keepers by highly organised gangs who maraud nightly in many parts of this country on highly skilled operations to poach deer and sell them at anything from £50 to perhaps £150 per carcase. This is big business. For example, I see that the chief constable of Dorset has said that he regards them now as being highly organised in his part of the country. I understand that in one police area they have set up a special office to deal with complaints about this continuous poaching.

The methods vary, but the one that is the most grisly, disgusting and needing to be eliminated is the use by poachers of cars—they arrive in gangs in Land-Rovers, they use intensive light to dazzle the deer, they then pepper what they can find with shotguns, causing much indiscriminate cruelty to deer which escape to die in misery somewhere, and then make off with the carcases. Of course there are other things going on that we know about. Some poachers are now using specially trained lurcher dogs to catch deer. I have no wish to interfere with legitimate sport, but a great deal of what is done by these lurcher dogs goes quite beyond reason and they are used for indiscriminate poaching. For example, one sees advertisements for lurcher dogs to do this work, presumably mainly for poaching. These advertisements are now openly carried in the newspapers. The Exchange and Mart has an advertisement reading: Lurcher dogs, catch deer, rabbit; excellent with lamp. £50. That is a clear indication of the way in which gangs are using lamps with lurcher dogs to do their poaching. Another advertisement says: A lurcher bitch: gets well stuck into roe deer. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle of the 20th February this year was advertising them. They may be used quite legitimately for some reason, but we know that a great many of them are used illegally for poaching. On the 20th August last year a man caught as a result of investigations in connection with burglary—he could not be caught very easily under the present Deer Act—turned out to be what the Evening Standard called "A super poacher" who in four years got 100 deer valued at £12,000, mainly from the Woburn Abbey estate. Part of his statement read: One day I went to the park. My dog pulled a buck down; I pulled it to the side of the road, cut its throat, but it kicked me, so I ran the car over its head to finish it off. We know that this sort of thing is going on by highly organised gangs to complete their poaching activities. I thought the climax of this—if I may be slightly lighthearted about what is rather a grisly subject—was a notice reported in one newspaper at Market Drayton: a poacher openly advertising in local shops that he had increased his prices for venison because of what he called "increased overheads", which happened to be fines for poaching of over £300. As I understand it, he was doing a large-scale trade with hotels.

I do not think I need dwell unduly on these methods, except to add, of course, that I have not been exhaustive in my list. Many other illegal practices go on: snares, the use of other missiles of cruel kinds, even down to arrows and all kinds of bludgeoning instruments. Many examples exist, quoted from all over the country, of deer found dying in misery through the use of disgusting types of snare in the countryside. That is the first point. There is a great deal of illegal poaching of a most grisly and cruel kind, now highly organised and highly profitable. But the case does not rest simply on that. It is now the case that this is leading to the beginning of real lawlessness and the possibility of crimes against the person on a much greater scale.

These gangs are openly threatening gamekeepers and other people lawfully trying to intercept them and to stop the poaching. Furthermore, there are re corded examples of people injured, people beaten up, people just avoiding being run down by the Land-Rovers. I see that one Blackdown farmer reported: "They told me that if I informed the police my property would not be worth looking at. By that I presume they meant fire ". I am told that one magistrate—and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, knows this case better than I do—who did not in fact sit to adjudicate on a case but withdrew from the Bench nevertheless (quite coincidentally perhaps) found that his farm buildings were burnt down a few nights later. This is the way that the trade is now growing and the extent of the cruelty is well known.

The kind of practice is well documented in an article in the Sunday Times in December 1974. It reads something as follows: Guns are too noisy for the real professional These are the hoodlum gangs who go about their business with a cold-blooded nastiness that A1 Capone would have admired. Their favourite method of slaughtering deer is messy but devastatingly effective. Then it describes how these poachers drive the deer to feed and then dazzle them with light, let loose the dogs and then finish them off. It continues: Deer finished off in this way may be considered lucky. All too often, especially when a shotgun gang is at work, the end is as bloody as the climax of a Sam Peckinpah movie. The animals are simply strafed with buckshot blasted into the herd at random. Those which are not killed outright often manage to escape, perhaps hobbling away on shattered stumps or with their jaw so badly smashed that they are unable to feed and slowly die of starvation. Places where access is easy are hardest hit by these deer slayers. At the New Forest, the head forester, Fred Courtier, has assembled a grisly museum of barbarous trophies—snares, crossbow bolts, traps, broken deer skulls; a grim legacy of the poacher's art. Then it goes on to describe some of the worst examples. I have looked at 135 Press cuttings of court cases in 1974/1975 trying to catch people of this kind. I have seen county by county reports, which I have here—I could not possibly read them all to your Lordships in a speech of reasonable length—showing what is happening county by county as these practices spread and attempts are made to catch the poachers.

My Lords, I come penultimately to the Bill itself. May I go through it very briefly. Clause 1 provides for close seasons, mainly re-enacting the Deer Act 1963. Clause 2 provides for nightly close times. I would imagine that there is universal agreement in your Lordships' House on those two provisions. Part II of the Bill deals with illegal methods of taking, snaring, killing, the use of lamps and the grisly weapons of the poacher's art, in an attempt to tighten and strengthen the law prohibiting them. Clause 4, to which I have already referred at the opening of my remarks, deals with the prohibition of trespass but only in search of deer; it is based on the Deer (Scotland) Act, and it is, of course, needed in order to give the police a chance to catch the offenders effectively by seeing them emerging from the land or catching them on the land actually doing their work. Clause 5 deals with the arrest of such people and is based very much again on previous legislation, on the Night Poaching Acts, on the Badger Act and other pieces of similar legislation dealing with animals.

We come to Part III, which is absolutely essential to the Bill. Clauses 6 to 12 regulate the sale of venision through licensed game dealers. This is very important indeed in order that the outlet for deer should be so clear that the police have a chance of catching those selling deer illegally. I would say to my noble friend who is to reply for the Government, that if there is any dispute with the Home Office about Part III, we must fight this through to the end. It is a very important Part of the whole Bill on which I am not prepared to give way, although, of course, if it can be amended and made simpler, I should be glad to listen to suggestions. I would say to him, as I have said already—and I am repeating myself at the risk of boring your Lordships—that the same principle as is in Part III is in Scottish legislation already. I cannot think why there is resistance to bringing it into effect in this country, given the scale of poaching and cruelty.

We come to Part IV. Clauses 13 and 14 deal with enforcement. Clause 15 deals with forfeiture. Here I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who I know is going to raise a point about forfeiture of lurcher dogs, that if it would help him I would certainly agree to a suggestion which I think has already been made; that is, that the words that the court can "order the destruction of any dog" could certainly be amended to read "order the disposal of any dog". I hope that that would meet a point that I know he is very anxious about—an example, if I may say so, of the extent to which I am already having negotiations to try to get an agreed Bill.

Clause 16 deals with fines. I will have a word to say about that in a moment. Clauses 17, 18 and 19 broadly deal with exceptions to the general rules of the Bill. They cover such matters as mercy killing. They cover farmers to a very large extent. If I may put it in a nutshell—I will say it slowly, because I think it is very important—under the Bill as drafted, a farmer on his own land, able to plead damage to his crops, will be able to shoot deer, even inside the close season—inside and outside the close season he will be able to shoot deer doing damage to his crops—with a shotgun of a certain size, for five years, before he should begin to use a rifle instead of the shotgun which is creating so much misery and cruelty. I would only say that one Amendment that I would not wish at any point to accept is to allow shotguns to be used on red deer, which are very large animals and which, once peppered with these shotguns, undergo a great deal of suffering.

Clauses 17, 18 and 19 also, incidentally, allow the use of a sawn-off shotgun for slaughtering. Of course, that is important as I understand it, to stag hunting. I hope farmers will accept that as a gesture from me and from those behind the Bill. It is an attempt to meet some of their legitimate points, that they need to use this weapon in the pursuit of their sport on some occasions.

My Lords, I come finally, because I have spoken quite long enough, to possible changes in the Bill. I have mentioned one small point to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford. I would say that we might well simplify, if necessary, Part III. I would quite accept that there may be difficulties about Clause 22, which applies the Bill to the Crown, although I would point out that this is in fact already in the Scottish Acts; it is a little hard to understand why this should not apply to the Crown in England when it already applies in Scotland. Anyway, I shall be very happy to listen to what my noble friend has to say in advice on behalf of the Government. I would say that we would be quite happy to understand that the clause on penalties needs to be revised, so as to categorise penalties more clearly, lessening doubt about small offences against larger offences under the Bill.

My Lords, I say this finally. I hope that if the Bill is given a Second Reading we will in Committee—and I hope for many consultations before that; I hope that if necessary we would postpone the Committee stage for some time in order to get agreement—try to get all the points of view carefully taken care of. But I would plead very humbly with noble Lords not to ask us to compromise unduly on Clause 4, which is the offence of trespass in pursuit of deer; on Part III, which is the sale of venison, and the steady —and I repeat steady—elimination of the smaller type of shotgun which is causing so much cruelty to deer in the rural areas.

I end with one personal remark that perhaps will help your Lordships to understand my own position on this Bill. Some years ago, I think it was 1965 or 1966, I began preparations, which were publicly announced, to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons to protect the badger. As is normal in such a case, I consulted with the Home Office. The Home Office talked me out of the Badger Bill: "There are difficulties; you are making departures in the law; it is all going to be so difficult". My Lords, perhaps I was a coward; I do not know. I stupidly gave in, only to find two or three years later that somebody with more courage than I had had introduced a Badgers Bill which became a Badgers Act. I felt foolish, humiliated. I learned that day never to give in unduly to the Home Office, which is not the most progressive of our Government Departments in relation to cruelty and the regulation of these matters in our country side. All I will say to your Lordships, therefore, in conclusion, is this. After my own first unhappy experience, after now learning of the need for the principles of this Bill, I hope nobody will expect me to do otherwise than fight very hard indeed to safeguard the principles of the Bill, which I think are very necessary and should be carried, if necessary, in the teeth of the opposition of the Home Office, if they drive us that far. I hope it will not go that far. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Northfield)

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on introducing the Bill for our consideration and, generally speaking, for the moderate manner in which he introduced it. If our blood has been made to run cold by overuse of the word "grisly", I am sure that we shall all forgive him.

As the noble Lord said, the purpose of the Bill may be said to be twofold. First, it could be said to be for the proper conservation of deer of a number of species and to prevent poaching. Secondly, the Bill seeks to prevent cruelty in relation to the control of deer and to protect them from indiscriminate slaughter by unsuitable weapons. Both those aims are thoroughly meritorious and I have no doubt that none of your Lordships would seek to quarrel with them. For that reason undoubtedly the Bill will be welcomed in all parts of the House.

I say "all parts of the House" advisedly having regard to the thoroughly inept leading article in last week's issue of The Field, dated 17th February. I do not believe that there is any Party issue on this matter and, indeed, it is deplorable to suggest that because the Bill has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, who occupies the geographical position in the Chamber that he does, there are Party political considerations. Nor do I believe that there is anything sinister about the fact that Mr. Jasper More tabled three Bills on the same subject at approximately the same time as the noble Lord, Lord Northfield.

Such an article shows a distinct lack of knowledge of our Parliamentary institutions and how they work. However, in the same way, if some of us have reservations about certain parts of the Bill, I hope it will not be thought that we have these reservations because of what I might term "Party considerations". Such certainly will not be the case so far as I am concerned. Indeed, I wish to disclaim any interest in the Bill, partly because I live in Scotland and partly because I am not particularly interested in anything in England except as it applies to a Home Office matter and relates to this Bill.

My Lords, any consideration of deer will rapidly show that, however delightful they may be as animals and however much we wish to protect them from undue harm or cruelty and, still more, from methods of poaching, which we would all deplore, they certainly have the most prolific breeding habits given the right environment. There comes a time when, for their own good, they have to be culled. In addition, it must be faced that owning, perhaps in large measure, to the activities of the Forestry Commission, the habitat in which deer breed has become steadily larger, until now in several parts of the country deer prove a considerable menace to both argicultural and forestry interests. Therefore, one should not minimise the fact that already there are and will increasingly be in the future, people who are concerned with perfectly laudable agricultural activities, such as farming, who will be gravely disadvantaged if they are unable to protect their crops or otherwise their interests in a humane but nevertheless effective manner. It is probably this part of the Bill which affects me the most.

At this time of night I shall not make a long speech. Indeed, I shall confine my comments to two matters: first, to Clause 3 as it is qualified by Clause 17 and, secondly, to the already notorious Clause 4 which I know always plays a great part in the thinking of noble Lords opposite. Clause 3(1)(c)(i) is really the heart of the matter so far as the taking and killing of deer is concerned and the method used. As I read this clause and Clause 17, the use of shotguns is to be banned immediately in the case of red deer, sika deer; and after five years all other deers will be protected from the use of what I call a normal shotgun. Under Clause 17(8), the deer will not be protected from an abnormal shotgun—in other words, a sawn-off shotgun. To anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the criminal courts prosecuting criminals for using sawn-off shotguns, this is a slightly unusual reaction.


As a slaughtering instrument, which is defined later in the Bill.


As I read the clause, if someone shoots a deer with a sawn-off shotgun he will not be liable to be prosecuted under Clause 3(l)(c)(i). I may be wrong about that, but that is how it reads to me. Clause 17(8) reads: A person shall not be guilty of an offence under section 3(l)(c)(i) of this Act by reason of using, as a slaughtering instrument, a smooth bore gun… and so it goes on. Of course, he has to use the large shot in it. I take that to mean that if a farmer wishes to protect his crops with a sawn-off shotgun, he will be entitled to do so under Clause 17(8). That may not be what the noble Lord intends, but that is how the Bill reads.


My Lords, I do not want to cross swords with the noble Earl on English law, but is it not illegal to have a sawn-off shotgun in one's possession unless one has a special licence for it?


My Lords, I shall deal with that; but we must take the Bill as we find it. What is the farmer to do if he finds deer on his land, injuring his crops, after five years? He can do nothing but watch the crops being eaten; he can use a shotgun, which will be illegal; or he can use a rifle, which will be illegal unless he has obtained a firearms certificate for it and, even so, it has to be the large rifle—certainly larger than a 2.2. Certainly it will be illegal for more than three people to take part in any shoot pending the five years.

I note that the noble Lord says that many bodies, including the police, have been consulted about this matter. Perhaps either he or the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, can tell me the reaction, if any, of the Association of Chief Constables to the likely increase in applications for firearms certificates in five years' time if the Bill receives the Royal Assent. We are increasingly told of the danger to the public of the increased use of firearms in an unauthorised manner. Bearing in mind the troubles in Northern Ireland and the frightening increase in violent crime, I should have supposed that chief constables would be doing everything in their power to discourage the possession and use of high-velocity or high-capacity rifles. It follows that if a farmer is granted a certificate, the police will naturally ensure that the rifle will be kept in the most secure conditions. And who shall blame the chief constable? This is one of the points that worries me. It is more, I suggest, than a Committee point, and it is more important than it might at first blush seem to be.

I have already dealt with the matter of sawn-off shotguns. As my noble friend observes, sawn-off shotguns are, in the ordinary course of events, not within the lawful ownership of the average citizen. He has to have a firearms certificate. I suppose he could get one, but a sawn-off shotgun is generally regarded in the criminal underworld as an even more delightful weapon than a rifle. I question whether the proliferation of these weapons is something to be welcomed. I know the purpose for which subsection (8) has been written into the clause, but I wonder whether it will have the effect that the Promoters of this Bill think it will.

The only other matter with which I wish to deal at this moment is Clause 4. As the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, related to us, there are horrifying incidents, unfortunately all too frequent, which poachers get up to in the cruel pursuit of what is now a profitable crime. So far as Part III of the Bill is concerned I have no comment except to say that it is a cumbersome way of going about regulating the purchase and sale of this meat. I have no doubt that when the noble Lord replies to the debate he will prove that I am wrong.

So far as Clause 4 is concerned, may I first say that the fact that there is already similar legislation valid and subsisting in Scotland, may not be a very good argument when it comes to England, partly because the law of Scotland has grown up in an entirely different way. If the noble Lord is going to satisfy one or two doubts which some noble Lords may have as to this Bill he will have to go further than saying, "Well, it is all right in Scotland". The first point is that Clause 4(a) is perfectly straightforward as a prohibition of the unlawful taking or killing of deer. I am worried in regard to Clause 4(b): If any person unlawfully— (b) enters or is on any land in search or pursuit of deer with the intention of taking, killing,… Two matters arise here. The noble Lord was quick to point out when he introduced this Bill that it is not his intention, nor that of the Promoters of this Bill, in any way to interfere with, or stop, the perfectly lawful and, I suggest, laudable occupation of staghunting. Since he has mentioned this I think that I must make some comment on it. The noble Lord gave illustrations of the type of activity which he seeks to render illegal under this subsection, and he instanced the gentleman, or more than one, who come on to land, he said in a horrible way in a Land-Rover—I did not see what was horrible about it, but still—with a lurcher or two and pursue the deer, and by one method or another incapacitate it and kill it. That is perfectly easy to comprehend, and it is unlawful under Clause 4.

If a stag hunt in pursuing a stag, for instance, go to some place to which they do not normally go but because the stag takes them there (the outskirts of a town or some part of the country to which they do not normally go), and there is there somebody who violently objects to their presence and to what they are doing and what they are there for, how does the noble Lord distinguish between the one and the other? For the life of me, I cannot. I do not think that one can do so by some tautologous use of the word "unlawfully". That is one part of this Bill which will have to be considered carefully. I know that the noble Lord says that they have this in Scotland; but they do not have stag hunts in Scotland, and therein lies one particular difference.

The second example concerning which I am seeking information, and maybe the noble Lord can give it, is if in England an occupier perfectly properly shoots with a rifle and wounds a deer on his land—and occupiers are not all good shots—and he then goes to his next-door neighbour in pursuit of that deer, what in English law is his defence to a summons under Clause 4(b)? I do not know of it, and I am sure that perhaps at a later stage the noble Lord and I can talk about it or be in correspondence, and he can satisfy me.

There is going to be considerable—I will not say outcry—adverse comment from noble Lords, and I do not want to take up any more time, on this question of the rights of the occupier or farmer to control deer in a way which seems most suitable having regard to his particular circumstances. I instance, for example, the case of a suburban farmer, where it would be highly dangerous to have the air rent with bullets. I think that the noble Lord would agree that in general fanners, being countrymen, are responsible in what they do, and if they do shoot at a deer in order to protect their crops, or for whatever reason, they are on the whole scrupulous about following it up and seeing that it is as painlessly despatched as may be.

If the noble Lord is to justify this fetter upon their otherwise lawful activities I think that he must show rather more irresponsibility on the part of the farming community than he has been able to so far. I fully agree that the man who comes in some form of transport and descends on land for the purpose of taking deer by whatever method he can, purely for the purpose of selling its meat, merits very little consideration and no sympathy; but I suggest that the opposite situation obtains in the case of a farmer who may genuinely merely want to protect his crop, and will not spray unsuitable shot in the general direction of a deer. I know that other noble Lords will have many other points, but for myself, as I said at the beginning, I welcome this Bill. However, it will need a bit of digging out of the ground to make it acceptable in the end.

7.28 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I claim some knowledge of this subject, being the owner of a large area of deer-occupied land in Scotland, and thereby having the responsibility for the management and culling of a herd of wild deer numbering usually something over 1,100. I have also stalked deer both as an amateur and as a professional. I have pursued and apprehended poachers, and finally I served for a number of years as a National Farmers' Union representative on the Red Deer Commission in Scotland. I suppose that in a remote sense I have an interest in this Bill, but only inasmuch as the Bill may affect the whole British market in venison. Otherwise, I join in the debate hoping that the knowledge and experience of the subject that I can offer will prove to be of assistance to my Welsh and English colleagues in your Lordships' House.

The Preamble to the Bill claims that its main purpose is to improve the management of deer in England and Wales. I have read through it carefully several times and yet I still cannot find where it is supposed to provide for this. I find in it provision for the prevention of poaching, but the prevention of predation on a wild stock is not necessarily good management, not unless it can be shown that the predation is threatening the species, and we have no evidence of this—the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has already told us that the deer population of England is increasing in spite of the level of poaching that is taking place—nor unless it can be shown that there will be substituted for the predation which normally takes place a controlled cull, and there is no provision in the Bill to try to ensure that this takes place.

When the Deer (Scotland) Act was passed, the whole key to the legislation was the establishment in Scotland of the Red Deer Commission with their duty to advise on proper management, to carry out a cull if necessary, to control the deer population, to prevent damage and, their most important advantage of all, that of providing a focal point where the interests of deer forest owners, farmers, stalkers, scientists and administrators could meet to thrash out the problems of management and advise all those interested parties as well as Her Majesty's Government in the person of the Secretary of State. Now that I am no longer a member of the Com mission, I think I can claim for that Commission that they do a good job and I know I can point out that a defect of this Bill is the lack of such a body, the lack even of the suggestion to provide a committee to advise or to act as a forum where competing interests can meet to thrash out their problems.

Let us examine the individual clauses of the Bill more minutely. Part I, together with Schedule I, provides for close seasons for the taking of six species of deer, and here I find myself at odds with the Bill right away, on two counts: first, I do not see the need for differences in the seasons between Scotland and England; and, secondly, I do not think it desirable to include muntjac and Chinese water deer in the list. The differences between seasons in Scotland and England would in my view be helpful to poachers, especially in the area of the English-Scottish Border. It would in my view be confusing to the venison trade and it seems hard to justify on the grounds of conservation.

Specifically, the differences are that the Bill suggests a month less open season for red dear stags in July and six and a half months more open season between 21st October and 30th April. Why? Stags are in poor condition, smelly and run down, after the rut in the last six and a half months, and are not desirable for meat, so it cannot be to meet the market demand. Nor can it be to meet the need to cull, as we have never found any difficulty in Scotland in achieving a suitable cull within our existing seasons. The Bill then suggests 10 days less open season for hinds in October and a fortnight more open season in February. This must surely be wrong, as hinds are in much better condition in the early part of the season and are getting well on in pregnancy by the latter half of February. In the case of fallow does, the same difference of season is suggested, though the season for fallow buck is the same as the Scottish one. In the case of sika, the anomalies are the same as those for fallow. The suggested roe seasons are again totally different, starting this time earlier by a whole month for buck and ending 10 days later, even though in the case of does it is suggested that the season starts only 10 days earlier and ends on the same date as it does in Scotland.

All of this must be very confusing and I cannot see why it is not an advantage to get together on these points. In Scotland we do not have seasons for muntjac or Chinese water deer. I do not think we have these species and I do not think it desirable that we have them. I can see no conservation case for granting recognition to a recently escaped exotic species. They do us no good in the feral state, they are a potential menace to farmers and nurserymen and they could be a problem and hazard in the event of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. They should be treated as vermin and eradicated in the feral state, not recognised by granting them a close season. If wolves escaped from our wildlife parks would we give them protection? They would have more right to it than muntjac because they were once native to these islands.

I come to Part II of the Bill, and here again we find a difference between the law of the land in Scotland and that proposed for England. It is proposed to ban the use of shotguns for taking all species of deer except, oddly, in the case of a sawn-off shotgun—to which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred—a weapon the use of which it can hardly be a good idea to encourage in any circumstances. In Scotland, the occupier of agricultural land is entitled to use a shotgun to protect his growing crops and this should be true, too, in England. If we take from the farmer the right to use a shotgun, we must automatically grant to him the right to a firearm certificate so that he can arm himself with a high powered sporting rifle in order to protect his goods.

Do we seriously think that it is wise in these troubled times to proliferate the ownership of high velocity rifles and high powered ammunition all over the country? Most farmers have a shotgun and know how to handle it sensibly. They should be allowed to continue to use it for the necessary protection of their property. If, by some misfortune, muntjac and Chinese water deer get left in the Bill, the use of shotguns should certainly be left in for the culling of these species. Some of them are little bigger than hares and a high powered rifle could almost blow them to bits. If we are to use them for meat at all they would have to be culled with shot guns. However, I see one case where the use of shotguns is undesirable; it is not good for it to be legal to shoot at a fallow or roe running through the line at a pheasant drive; but this would not be a problem if the right to use a shotgun were restricted only to the agricultural occupier of land.

Coming to Part III of the Bill, here in my view we come to the most serious flaw of all. Farmers and growers have a right to prevent damage to their crops and produce; nay, they have a duty to the country to prevent this damage and to protect the food supply of the nation by doing so. They must therefore be allowed to kill deer destroying their produce. By killing these deer they take possession of them, in legal terms, and therefore they should have the right to sell what is theirs without it being conditional on close seasons. It is their only compensation for the damage done to their crops and it is a great inducement to see that deer are controlled and managed properly.

The same clause which seeks to prevent farmers selling deer taken out of season would prevent the sale of Scottish venison that had been lawfully taken in Scotland to English hotels, restaurants and game dealers. To achieve adequate culls of deer, it is vital to keep existing markets, and one hopes we will not see restricted the existing markets in England for Scottish venison. It is also conceivable that the attempted restriction on sale would be frustrated by carcasses being sent to Scotland to be marketed. This clause raises one or two fundamental questions about trade across the Border which go far beyond the province of this Bill and which might more properly be considered for discussion in another place at this particular time.

However, let us turn to Clauses 7 to 10 and the proposal to put the venison trade into the hands of licensed game dealers. I wonder whether anyone asked the game dealers whether they wanted this responsibility. In Scotland, we have game dealers but not all of them wish to handle venison. I suspect that the same may be true in England. Likewise, there are butchers who wish to handle venison but who do not wish to be game dealers. Therefore, when we thought that there was a real need to gather information about the venison trade, we asked Parliament to create a separate class of dealer. We created this separate class as a venison dealer and the records kept by these people were used by the Red Deer Commission to check the levels of cull being taken in different areas. By relating this information to levels of population statistics, an overall picture of the growth or decline of numbers was built up. In this way, the Red Deer Commission can give more fully informed advice to the Secretary of State and to the owners of deer forests. But who is to collect and collate this information under the present Bill? For what purpose is the information to be gathered? For what purpose will an authorised person seek to examine a game dealer's books?

One final point occurs to me to criticise. In Part V, Clause 19 empowers the Nature Conservancy Council to issue licences to take deer for experimental purposes. As the Nature Conservancy Council is a body which is engaged in wildlife research, it seems wrong to put it into a position where it is licensing its own activities. It would surely be better to put this matter into the hands either of the Home Office or of the Ministry of Agriculture.

To sum up, although there are certain features of the Bill that are desirable, it seems to me to be lacking in the right sort of motivation. It appears to lack the provisions necessary to achieve its avowed main objective. Whether it is possible at this time to draft a Bill which can do for England what the Deer (Scotland) Act did for Scotland, I rather doubt. In the circumstances, it may be desirable for this Bill to fail. Certainly, it seems desirable that it should be considerably amended in its passage through your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I shall listen with great interest to the rest of the debate.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I say that the reason for the very short close season for stags in England and Wales is that the habitat is quite different in England. Here, we have dense woodland and the land is very rich so that the stag soon regains his strength after the rut whereas, as noble Lords know, after the rut in the Highlands and after the close of the season on the 20th October, the stags are not worth shooting. Indeed, they can hardly walk and many die. That is the chief difference. It is the difference in the habitat. One cannot compare Scotland with England in this Bill.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his explanation, but I hae me doots! I shall listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has to say at the end of the debate.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for the first time to address your Lordships' House and must ask for your customary indulgence. The list of subjects on which a Peer may address your Lordships for the first time is wide. In my case defence, the arts, law and order, forestry and agriculture occurred to me. I have deliberately chosen the Deer Bill because I feel that this is a subject on which there will be a wide measure of agreement on both sides of the House. For this reason, I believe that the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for introducing the Bill.

Before I begin to discuss the Bill, I should like to take a short backward glance into history. The deer has always been a much favoured animal and has been hunted by kings and queens down the centuries. Saxon kings hunted the deer; in the reign of King Henry VII a Statute was passed to prohibit hunting by night; Queen Elizabeth I hunted deer with delight. Last weekend I saw one of the herds that she used to hunt and I am glad to say that the deer are still in excellent condition and are beautifully managed and a very fine sight.

My honourable friend the Member for Ludlow introduced the Deer Act 1963 which formed the basis of this Bill in another place. Events since have proved it to be inadequate and ineffective in some respects, and the present Bill enlarges it and strengthens it in some important ways. The Bill also contains some new provisions. It is essentially a humanitarian Bill. It is based upon the Scott-Henderson Report of 1963 and implements most of its recommendations. The first change is that all six species of deer—red deer, fallow deer, sika, roe deer, munljac and Chinese water deer—are mentioned in it. A further background change is that foreign buyers are now prepared to pay very high prices for venison in this country. A fundamental change has taken place in the woodland acreage in England and Wales since 1963. This is now 1,134,000 hectares as a result of the excellent efforts of the Forestry Commission and private landowners. Similarly, there has been a great increase in the number of deer during the same period. I am told that there are now approximately 100,000 deer in the kingdom. These two factors have been important in bringing about the necessity for this Bill.

Turning to the Bill in detail, Part I deals with the close season for deer. An important addition here is the close season for roebuck. As many noble Lords will know, the bucks are then in velvet and are in a weak physical condition as they are growing their horns. This close season is therefore both overdue and very welcome. The nightly close times during which it will be illegal to kill or injure deer are also extremely welcome and will do much to prevent the poaching which, unhappily, is taking place in many areas with great cruelty to the deer.

I shall not give details of what is going on. It is sufficient to say that wounding, though not killing, is taking place on a very considerable scale and the subsequent sufferings of the deer are exceedingly severe, the more so as they are often prolonged over many months. All, including the police and gamekeepers, who love and value our wildlife, are concerned at this aspect of the matter which, I am happy to say, has received great attention in this Bill. I should like to mention the admirable work of the Deer Society in the South of England in supplying a trained shot whenever necessary to control the numbers of red deer.

Part II is the heart of the Bill. It defines the unlawful weapons which may be used and gives a legal definition of poaching. I am particularly glad to see that artificial light by night is prohibited and that, although it may sound curious, the arrow, artificially discharged, is also prohibited. I am told that this can be a particularly unpleasant weapon. I consider that the position of private herd owners in attaching a tag to the ear of newly born calves, for age identification in the culling programme, at a later date, should be clarified.

Part III concerns the control of sales and purchases of venison. This is a new provision. It places an obligation on all game dealers to keep records of purchases and to produce them for inspection by an authorised person. This is a very valuable provision. I am advised, however, by a very reputable game dealer that it would be in the interests of all if on the official form (Schedule 3) space could be provided for the signatures of both the seller of the venison and of the game dealer, to make it a legal document. I am further advised by a senior police officer that it would be advisable if the number of the vehicle delivering the venison could also be compulsorily entered on this form. This would enable the police to check on the activities of the vehicle, if necessary, in the future.

Part IV concerns enforcement and procedure. I am advised by a senior police officer that the Bill gives ample powers to the police for their task. He also particularly welcomed the power of forfeiture of the vehicle in addition to the firearm, which the court may order under Clause 15(1)(b); and of the cancellation of any firearms certificate. Under Clause 16 the penalties for offences under the Bill are greatly increased. I particularly welcome the penalty for an offence of a fine up to a maximum of £500, and the provision that in respect of more than one deer the maximum fine shall be determined as if the person convicted had been convicted of a separate offence in respect of each deer. This will, I hope, prove a valuable deterrent. In my opinion these greatly increased fines will, together with the forfeitures I have mentioned, provide a real deterrent to poachers, and will, I hope, put an end to the undesirable practices with all the attendant cruelties which they inflict.

Part V concerns the exceptions to the Bill. Clause 17 concerns the necessary provisions for the killing of a calf or fawn deprived of its mother. While welcoming the intention of this clause, which it quite admirable, I believe that it needs careful attention. It is a well-known fact that a red deer hind will leave its newly-born calf for most of the day while it goes in search of food and water, and an unscrupulous or ignorant person, or both, could take or kill the calf and plead that it was deserted, whereas that is not so at all. I have no doubt that other noble Lords may wish to consider this matter, particularly at the Committee stage. I should mention that a red deer hind may travel up to 20 miles a day before she returns to her calf.

My Lords, I would not wish to be controversial in this speech, but I am advised that Clause 17, which deals with the killing of deer which may be causing serious damage to crops, may be too widely interpreted. I am further advised that subsection (7), which deals with the killing of fallow, roe, Muntjac and Chinese water deer by means of shooting with any smooth bore gun of 12 bore gauge during the period of five years following the passing of the Bill should be very carefully considered, with the welfare of the deer in mind. As is well known, the fallow deer is a far more difficult animal to shoot than is the red deer. I have no doubt that other noble Lords may wish to consider this clause in the light of objections which have been made; and I have no doubt that with the deep knowledge and experience of wild deer which noble Lords possess, and with their humanitarian instincts, they will be able to reconcile the conflicting interests under this clause—those of farming and forestry—with the true welfare of the deer themselves.

I welcome the Bill. It will, I hope, improve the conditions, life history, and chances of survival of one of the most beautiful—and certainly in the case of the red deer the most magnificent—of all our mammals, which has been famous in song and verse down through the centuries, and which lives on for us in the canvases of Landseer, Sir David Wilkie and Sir Francis Grant. From my own knowledge of deer I know the prosperity they bring to the areas in which they are preserved and in which light industries flourish as a result. During the time that I have been in your Lordships' House I have noticed the emphasis placed upon light industries in our more remote areas and the sad drain of the best of our young manhood to the towns. In those parts where deer are preserved the reverse is the case; together with agriculture, light industries are carried on and bring prosperity and worthwhile employment to young people, as well as to older people. To see the deer in their natural state is a joy which can be appreciated only by those who have done so; and to come upon a red deer calf in early summer, alone, is to experience a sense of rare privilege.

The Bill will greatly reduce and indeed, I hope, obliterate the extremely undesirable poaching with vehicles and sophisticated weapons which has become a large-scale operation in deer country and from which great cruelty results. It will strengthen the powers of the police in bringing offenders to court and greatly increase the penalties to bring them into line with modern economic conditions. My Lords, I heartily welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy and well deserved passage through your Lordships' House.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, on his maiden speech. The noble Lord did a much better job on it than I did a few years ago, and I am sure that like me he is glad that it is all over. I was particularly pleased to hear in the speech his use of the word "hectare". This obviously shows that he has studied not only the Deer Bill and got that under his belt, but also the Common Agricultural Policy. So I hope that in future we will hear him speak on agriculture as well.

I must follow the noble Lord's excellent example and be brief and get on with my task. I have an interest to declare in that I am a farmer. I am a farmer who has had, and does have, and will have damage done by deer. The amount of damage is anyone's estimate, but one year we certainly lost four acres, and I do not intend to tell the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, he being an agricultural economist, how much that cost me. I am sure that he could also tell me how much it cost me in "green pounds" as well. I have got that over, thank heavens! No doubt when he looks at the Bill, and when we all look at it, we see that it is dealing with the English problem as opposed to the Scottish problem, which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, is a slightly different problem.

My Lords, when I first got sight of the noble Lord's Bill—and indeed I was aware of its rough format in July, because my local branch and council member of the National Farmers' Union asked farmers who were affected by deer for their views on deer control—I and my neighbours readily agreed that something ought to be done to prevent poaching, and, more important, to prevent unnecessary cruelty. It was particularly pleasing to find that the National Farmers' Union and the British Deer Society were in agreement. I believe that the British Deer Society was anxious to obtain the farmers' support for this, and listening to the noble Lord I think I can still take this as being so.

Provided that the Bill would prevent poaching and cruelty and preserve a correct balance of deer in the country, it would have my complete support—but here comes the snag. I sadly have to tell the noble Lord that unless he can see his way to certain Amendments, I do not think that it will. Furthermore, he knows as well as I do that over the last few months there has been a difference of opinion between the National Farmers' Union and the British Deer Society. I hope that we shall be able to resolve this division as the Bill passes through Committee. I felt that the noble Lord's speech was particularly moderate, and I hope that mine will be in a similar manner.

My Lords, I will leave it to other noble Lords to express their detailed views on poaching. I believe the provisions in the Bill relating to the sale of venison to be on the right lines. It is my view that the great majority of cruelty comes from the poaching fraternity. My worry is that the effect of the Bill as it is written now will be to take from the individual farmer his right to protect his crops. Your Lordships can understand Bills far better than me, but I am supported in this view by Clause 17 (to which the noble Lord has already kindly referred) which prevents the use of shotguns on red deer and sika by forbidding completely the use of a shotgun in five years' time, and by the prevention of deer drives, which are the most effective method, or one of the most effective methods, of controlling deer. My Lords, deer drives have a horrible image. Images are not necessarily correct. I should be grateful for any documented evidence weighing up the alternative. Frankly, the using of rifles instead of shotguns at drives is not for me, but knowing of the many Members of your Lordships' House with decorations for gallantry, it may be that we could find a firing squad from them. It may also save any further discussion as to what should happen to your Lordships' House in the future!

My Lords, these items in Clause 17, I am afraid, are totally unacceptable to farmers—I am sorry to say it laughing, but they are—because it will mean that the British Deer Society will eventually have complete control over protecting my, and our, crops. So I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, to tell me something about the British Deer Society. I have a long list of questions here, but I will not bore your Lordships as it is getting late; I will ask just one or two of the things which are most important. How many members has the Society got, and where are they operating? Who will pay them to kill my deer? Will they do as I tell them, and what happens when they do not? Can the noble Lord assure me that the British Deer Society's interests will be the protection of my crops, and not the protection of its enjoyment? What happens if the British Deer Society goes broke, which is quite a common thing nowadays among farmers? Who will take its place? Lastly, I ask: Where is the noble Lord who will convince me that this corporate body is more efficient and effective than the individual farmer?


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? Can he tell me where in the Bill the British Deer Society is mentioned?


I am sorry, my Lords; I may be using the wrong words. I mean the control. It will eventually be done under the control of the British Deer Society, as I understand it. They will take over control.

Several noble Lords: No!


Who is going to take over, then? Will the noble Lord tell me who is going to control my deer when I am not allowed to?


My Lords, the noble Lord will be able—and I would think he really were able—to control his own deer.


My Lords, could I tell the noble Lord—

Several noble Lords: Order, Order!


My Lords, I do not think we can carry on a debate in this way. If any noble Lord raises a matter, then presumably my noble friend Lord Northfield will deal with it; but if we have this continuous interruption we shall not make any progress at all.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am doing my best. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, will pull me up on these points and that we will get them straight in Committee, as I suggested.

My Lords, my last point is that of cruelty. This Bill was promoted to prevent cruelty. I believe it will have the opposite effect, for the following reasons. If the Bill works as it is suggested it should work—I am not allowed to mention the British Deer Society now, I think—the farmer will have to protect his crops with a rifle, and not a shotgun. I ask your Lordships: Is the farmer as capable with a rifle as with a shotgun? I am not. Does he know the range of a rifle as well as he does that of a shotgun? Does he, like me, think it is a 25-pounder, or does he think it a pea-shooter? Is he as good a shot with a rifle as with a shotgun? Certainly I am not; in fact, I am a positively dangerous shot with a rifle. It is possible to wound with a rifle just as well as it is to wound with a shotgun.

I believe the farmer is much better with a shotgun. It may be that safety does not matter. I think it does in England. I farm near Oxford, and there are a lot of people there. Indeed, due to his long experience with a shotgun and none with a rifle, he is, as I said before, just as likely to kill cleanly with a shotgun as with a rifle. If, however, the farmer does not get a licence for a rifle—and, quite frankly, I am not keen on every farmer having a rifle in his unlocked back kitchen, which, law or no law, is where it is likely to be—I ask your Lordships: What might happen then? He will shoot deer with a shotgun. Make no mistake: he will. I would. I hope I am protected by privilege. The non-farming community has no idea at all of the strength of the farmer's wish and will to protect his crops. A farmer is not worth being called a farmer unless he is dedicated to producing food and protecting it. So, my Lords, as the shooting will be illegal, it will be surreptitious. The shot size is likely to be six. Why should I go in and buy buckshot when it is illegal to use it? The shooting will be hit-and-run, and he will not attempt to follow a wounded deer. I hope that I have convinced your Lord-ships, or some of you, that under these conditions there will be more, not less, cruelty.

I leave the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, with one thought. The farmer's first responsibility is to produce food. It is not necessarily to make money, even though he, as an economist, may think it ought to be. The farmer must be allowed to protect his crops. The noble Lord's Bill, as written, prevents him from doing so effectively. Therefore, I must ask the noble Lord to look again at these points. I should like to see the Bill go on to the Statute Book with the farmers' approval. After all, we do farm the land off which the deer live. I can assure the noble Lord that I and the National Farmers' Union are only too happy to try to resolve these differences with him between now and the Committee stage. After all, we are basically all on the same side. Indeed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I am promoting a Bill in your Lordships' House tonight to prevent roe bucks being shot during the mating season, a practice which is undoubtedly cruel due to the tender state of their heads.

8.8 p.m.


My Lords, I support the Bill, and as I introduced the original Deer Act in 1963 I should support this Bill because it incorporates a lot of the original Act. The Bill brings up to date the original Act, particularly in relation to the change in the value of money. Where I am extremely pleased regarding this Bill is in the clause dealing with the sale and purchase of venison and with the prohibiting of the illegal traffic in venison which will stem from this. This has been a custom for a long time on the Continent. I am most happy that we are now having provisions in this Bill—if it becomes an Act, not too much amended as regards this clause, anyway—regarding the sale of venison. That is excellent because the price of venison has so rocketed since the 1963 Act came into force. I sell my venison now for 56p a pound with no transport costs. It goes to a middle man. I do not know what he sells it for. What the poor consumer has to pay, I have no idea.

Under the old Act, my Lords, the fines were quite laughable. I have known instances where poachers have been had up in court—not lately but a few years ago. They may have shot, say, six deer and they have got away with a fine of £25. Of course the price of venison was not so high then, but they probably netted £150. So I commend to the House this clause dealing with the sale and purchase of venison. I also commend the greater powers of enforcement given to the police and the courts under Part IV. Clause 15 empowers the court to forfeit among other things a man's car if he is convicted of an offence. This power did not exist under the Act which I introduced in 1963. Today, with the very much greater ownership of cars and the resulting increase in cars on the road, I think this is important, because a lot of poaching is done in early mornings from cars and even if the deer are not shot from a car the latter is necessary to take the carcass away. If people did not have cars they would find it very difficult to poach deer.

Clause 16, the penalties clause, provides realistic penalties. Paragraph (a) is particularly appropriate because formerly a poacher was usually fined the same amount whether he killed one, three or four deer. I think it excellent and very appropriate that now he can be fined per deer, so to speak, and if he shoots three deer he will be fined more than if he shoots one—not necessarily, but it can be done. That I think will be a great deterrent. What I should really like to see is the fine tied to the cost of living index every year, but I do not suppose we shall get that. One of the clauses I am a little worried about, and I think my noble friend on the Front Bench was too, is Clause 4. I think it will have to be amended. I will not go into the arguments that my noble friend Lord Mansfield went into, but I agree with him there. It is going to be difficult particularly of course, as my noble friend mentioned, regarding a hunt like the Devon and Somerset. A person on entering land may not actually be seen shooting deer. If he was not carrying a rifle or a shotgun it would presumably be difficult to prove he was going to shoot a deer. If he was carrying a cross-bow he might say he was going to shoot squirrels. Well, he would have to be a very good shot. On the other hand, if he was carrying a shotgun he could say he was shooting jackdaws or pigeons and was not after deer. I think this is a difficult clause.

Might I turn to Clause 3 and Schedule 2 which deal with unlawful weapons. I think this is excellent. This extends and clarifies the provisions of the 1963 Act, but I am not too happy about the prohibition on marking of live deer. Presumably it applies to the owners of deer, of estates and parks. Some estates mark deer calves on the ear. It is quite an interesting study, and if one has to apply constantly for a licence to do this it would certainly be rather a bore. Perhaps some exceptions might be made, but it is a Committee point. As regards poachers, weapons have become more sophisticated since 1963. I am pleased to see that this unlawful weapons clause includes, as did the 1963 Bill, cross-bows and bows, but the weapons have now become far more sophisticated. Who in 1963 would have imagined somebody with an infra-red light or ray to poach? This is, I imagine, used with some telescopic sight that you can use in the dark.

Before concluding I should like to refer to the Part V, on which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, spent a large part of his speech. For instance, I think subsection (2) of Clause 17 will be open to abuse. An individual can easily claim that he killed an injured deer, but he may have injured it first, then killed it. I think it is going to be difficult to prove otherwise. Regarding the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the farmers, I farm and I am also a landowner and grow trees. I see his point, but I am afraid I cannot agree with him all along the line. In fact, I cannot agree with him to a very great extent. From my own experience many farmers—and this applies to foresters—are inclined to exaggerate the damage done by deer. I farm my park down here and we do not have any deer fences round the crops. We do get some damage, but at the worst the damage done is never more than 10 per cent, of the total, and usually 5 per cent. I agree that is annoying for farmers, but I think they are inclined to exaggerate the damage.

I am sorry to say that I know one or two cases of farmers who have sown a crop, in my opinion deliberately to attract deer in order that they may shoot them. They have put a single wire with a few posts round a field so that it is enclosed. I am sorry to say I have known instances of that, because now, with the very greatly increased price of venison it can be far more profitable for a small farmer to shoot all the deer he can than to farm. So I do not agree with the noble Lord behind me. I think it fair in the close season to allow farmers to shoot deer provided that they can prove they were destroying their crops; I think that is fair enough. I think the Promoters of this Bill have been rather generous in saying that for five years farmers can continue to use shotguns to shoot deer on their land—apart from red deer and sika. I cannot see why after five years a farmer cannot apply for a firearms certificate. Provided he is a responsible person, I am sure the chief constable would grant him one. I appreciate that we do not want thousands of farmers roaming the country with rifles, but provided the man is responsible—and it is up to the chief constable to decide that—I can see no harm in it. Where big estates are concerned I can see no problems at all. They have their gamekeepers and one man probably experienced in deer, and if a tenant has his crops eaten and rings up the landowner or the agent the keeper will go and control the deer; so that there is no trouble regarding big estates.

I appreciate that there may be some injustices here. But if you are going to completely ban shotguns for all species of deer after five years you will have to have some form of organisation like the Red Deer Commission in Scotland, who can send out experienced stalkers to a farmer if his crops are being eaten and if he wishes that protection, which presumably he would. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, say that the Deer Society (and I am a member of that society) were hoping to have a monopoly of all the deer shooting in the arable country through England and Wales. There is nothing about that in the Bill, and I think he is jumping to conclusions. There will eventually have to be some organisation, probably a joint organisation between the State and some society.

I must commend Clause 17(7)(c) regarding the number of persons carrying firearms—no more than three persons on the land at the time. Deer drives are highly unpleasant when shotguns are used. Large numbers of people gather who have no experience of deer—at any rate, most of them have not—and they loose off at extreme range. A lot of deer are wounded and blinded. It is most unattractive. The proper way to shoot deer is to stalk them in the early morning with a rifle when they come out from the woods to feed. You need only one man if he is adept at the job. He can keep the deer down perfectly well with no cruelty. The shooting of red deer with shotguns ought to have been banned a long time ago. That is extremely cruel. You have to be within 12 yards of the deer. The number of deer I have seen blinded by people using shotguns—and it is not all done by poachers—is sickening. My Lords, I must not speak any longer. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, upon introducing the Bill and I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, on his maiden speech. I hope we shall be hearing him often in various debates.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support this Bill very strongly. Of course I realise as well as anybody else that deer have to be kept in control; but surely it is up to us to see that the culling is done in as humane a way as possible. So far as I can see, that is one great merit of this Bill. It eliminates poaching. Poachers use the most barbaric methods in the killing of deer. Very often they will snare it and then kill it by degrees with a clawhammer, or something like that. They have used all descriptions of weapons in their efforts to get their deer. As the poaching movement seems to be growing a great deal, particularly in England, this Bill does a good job in stepping on that practice.

Poaching is not the only method by which deer can be illegally killed. They can be illegally killed by the landowner on his own land. I should like to quote a paragraph from a talk given by the vice-chairman of the British Deer Society to the all-Party Conservation Committee in your Lordships' House. He said: The other side of the problem is perhaps even more worrying. It is the landowner or occupier who shoots deer on his own land illegally. This is now so widespread in many areas that it is regarded as commonplace. Let me give you one of countless examples. In January last, two and a half months ago, on a farm of 2,000 to 3,000 acres in a southern county belonging to an extremely wealthy farming family, 40 gallon drums with holes in their sides filled with corn were put out in a field to attract the deer. One night, when enough deer were thought to be there, three Land-Rovers were driven into the field, the headlights were turned on and within minutes 27 deer were killed: male, female and young. How many were wounded will never be known". That is a statement of an incident which actually occurred. I would be the last person to support any legislation which was going to make things difficult for farmers. I have a great respect for farmers, and the last thing on earth I would want to do would be to make conditions difficult for them; but I cannot see that this Bill will do so.

The National Farmers' Union support the entire Bill with just two exceptions. I should like to deal with those two exceptions. One, of course, is something which has been discussed at some length already tonight: the question of the banning of the shotgun. Farmers are given five years in which to perfect them selves in the use of a rifle. Meanwhile, they can go on using their shotguns provided that they are not smaller than I bore. All the objections that have been raised are entirely baseless. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, spoke of the fact that the police would not welcome the terrific increase in gun licences. If a gun licence is applied for by a farmer and he states the purpose—


My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? What I said was that I did not think the Association of Chief Constables would welcome a proliferation of firearms certificates.


Yes, firearms certificates. My Lords, if it is known that they are for the purpose of farmers defending their own lands and properties, I hardly think that they would raise any objection.

The second exception was regarding the numbers of people who may shoot deer at a time. This is referred to in the Bill towards the end of Clause 17. It says that a person has to certify: that he was one of no more than three persons using or having in his possession such firearm and ammunition on that land at that time". That, of course, is solely for the reason of preventing these deer drives that take place at the present time and which result in a great deal of very random and reckless shooting, together with an enormous number of wounded deer. That surely is something which it would be good to try to prevent. I am no expert on firearms—I can say at once that I have never shot anything—but, on the other hand, I cannot believe that a farmer who is an expert in his own work cannot learn to use a rifle just as well as he has learned to use a shotgun.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, I am rather involved in the subject which is before us this evening, because I have the privilege of being the chairman of the British Deer Society, and I shall be saying something to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in a moment, when he comes back to his place. However, I should like first to say to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, how grateful all deer men are to him for his introduction of this Bill and particularly for the way in which he introduced it into your Lordships' House not so long ago. I should also like to congratulate him, if I may be so bold, on his grasp of a subject which he has told us is in many respects somewhat new to him. I also congratulate him on the clarity of his explanation of the issues before us.

I think it is notable that at this time, when our national life is being assailed from within and without by so many dangerous influences, in your Lordships' House we can give a day to the welfare of animals. I think that is a splendid thing. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dormer on his interest in deer, so clearly and feelingly expressed. I am glad that we have him as an ally of the Deer Society.

I feel that in these rather introductory remarks of mine I must mention John Hotchkis, who was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and who, as an individual, was the man most concerned with the immense amount of work, involving research and the interviewing of people, which went into the composition of the Bill. In so far as the Bill is in your Lordships' House, it is Lord Northfield's Bill, but until it came to these august premises, I had always thought of it as John Hotchkis's Bill.

As serving president of the British Deer Society, perhaps I need not tell your Lordships how much I applaud the aims of this Bill. I am also a serving member, as was the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, until a short time ago, on the Red Deer Commission of Scotland. However, so as not to give the impression that I am wholly biased in favour of the deer, I think I must also add that I, like the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, am a farmer. I am also a forester, and am at present president of the Timber Growers' Organisation in England and Wales. Therefore, I can view deer and their place in the countryside in the various aspects in which rural people have to view them, and I know full well the damage they can do to crops, to young trees and to some trees which are not all that young.

We have to try to find a more civilised way of dealing with the deer in England and Wales. I may say that I think we are fairly civilised in Scotland, where I also have interests; but it has to be said that in England we have a fairly new phenomenon. The deer exploded in population during the war, when they were not being controlled very well. Also, the enormous amount of planting that was done up and down the country and the number of young plantations have given them cover which they have been quick to seize upon, so that they have expanded rapidly. Within the last 20 years the expansion has been most marked, and deer are now found in the wild in very many parts of England and, I believe, also in Wales, where they were not found before.

I feel I must dwell for a moment on the comments made by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will not feel that in making comments on what some of my friends have said, I am seeking to usurp the function of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield; but some of the things they said I cannot let pass without a comment or two. Incidentally, I thought the article in The Field, to which my noble friend Lord Mansfield referred, was very fair comment. My noble friend made much of a point which, however, he failed to understand, about the sawn-off shotgun. If it is of any help to the House—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, could explain this later—the sawn-off shotgun was put down particularly because the staghounds in the West Country, having bayed the stag, brought it very often to bay in a brook or stream. It was then despatched at very close quarters with a slaughtering instrument, which is a sawn-off shotgun. That is why it was put down in the Bill, and it seems to me a very good reason.

As regards the difficulty of getting firearm certificates, my noble friend was a little inconsistent, because he drew attention to the great danger of many people having rifles, and then he went on to say that shotguns were much more frequently used by the criminal classes; so I do not know where we are on that one. However, the fact is that the criminal classes, as we all know only too well, can get hold of firearms if they want to—and they have got them.

A point was made concerning the pursuit of a wounded deer on to a neighbour's land. I think that was also referred to by my noble friend. As he knows, in Scotland on the rare occasions somebody has the misfortune to wound a deer, the convention is absolutely well established: that you follow it if necessary over the marsh into your neighbour's forest, and try to get it for all you are worth. How ever, I think it is a valuable point, which we must try to deal with during Committee stage, as to whether something ought to be said about that specifically, because the convention may not be known in England.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, my recent companion on the Red Deer Commission, as was (and still is) my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, was straying from those wide-open spaces of the far North of Caithness into what I might respectfully call, for him, somewhat unknown territory. That would account for one or two of the questions he asked, which could be fairly simply answered. He queried what the Title of the Bill meant when it referred to the improved management of deer, and I think I should dwell upon that for a moment.

The custom where deer existed in small pockets of England used to be, I regret to say, either a drive to shotguns, which could be a holocaust, or, even worse, a snare was used in the woods. Listening to our debate this evening is one man who has done more than any other to evolve a means of management of deer in the woods of the Forestry Commission and elsewhere. I am referring to Mr. Richard Prior who, together with Mr. MacArthur in Scotland, has done more than almost any other man to devise a means of management whereby not only are the deer shot effectively and in the right numbers, in view of the population increment, but they are the right individuals, both for the good of the herd and for the prevention of damage.

If I may digress for a moment to illustrate what I mean, it was those two men who discovered that where widespread damage was taking place in young plantations, as it was all over Britain, it was no good just indiscriminately shooting roe deer. The right ones to shoot were the young bucks, and of course a proportion of females as well. But people had tended to shoot the old big bucks and that was the best way to ensure lots more damage, because all the young bucks which the old buck had kept well under control, started moving into his territory and trying to claim it, and fraying the trees. I hope that I have not digressed for too long, but that is what we mean when we are talking about management.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? This is all very interesting and very well known to me, but where does it appear in the Bill?


My Lords, I think that it appears in the Bill in various ways. One object is to stop the poachers so far as you can, because you cannot have a management plan if the poachers are coming in and shooting the wrong animals, and possibly too many of them. Will the noble Viscount let me off with that? The suggestion of an English Deer Commission, such as we have in Scotland, must have occurred to noble Lords and it has been mentioned by others. I hope that consideration will be given to this but it is not so easy. A year or two ago, it was suggested that the Red Deer Commission in Scotland should consider extending its responsibilities and activities to roe deer. But having considered the matter very thoroughly, they came to the conclusion that it was too difficult and diffuse a problem for them to deal with, so they rejected it.

On the game dealer question, very much the same reasons apply in England, where there is a lack of proper regulations, as in Scotland. Very similar regulations have worked fairly well in Scotland and, among other things, have enabled the Deer Commission to check up on what deer are being legitimately shot. Otherwise, under the counter sales are only too easy and it is very difficult indeed to check up on what is legally acquired venison and what is illicitly shot.

Moving on to the final two points that I want to make to your Lordships, I have had a communication from the Zoological Society of London which I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, about afterwards. They are worried about the restriction on the movement of deer, and I am sure that that is a simple matter which could be dealt with in Committee. Coming to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, there are two difficulties of major importance in this good Bill and one of them, certainly, is connected with the prohibition of the use of shotguns, in the case of red deer immediately and in the case of other species in five years' time. Let me say categorically that I wish it were possible for the banning of shotguns to be the rule. They are not the right instrument to use on bigger deer, and they wound far more than they kill. But it may not be realistic to try to force this legislation at the present time, because, in view of the attitude of farmers and their knowledge of deer, it would be virtually impossible to enforce it, and a law that cannot be enforced is worse than no law at all.

I have referred to the rapid spread of deer of three or four species, but especially of fallow and roe, which in many parts of England have spread faster than it has been possible to train people in their control. That is really the crux of the problem. The best way of controlling them is by employing skilled riflemen doing selective shooting, maybe at dusk and dawn, and this has been proved. Of course, the man behind the rifle must be well trained in field craft and have aknowledge of deer, as well as being accurate in markmanship and following the rules of safety. He will often operate in woodland conditions from a high seat. There are tens of thousands of deer shot every year on the Continent using this method, and quite a few thousand in England. Many people are afraid of the dangers of using a high velocity bullet in highly populated areas. As we know, a bullet can carry or ricochet a very long way, but, taking a firm grip on this good English oak behind me, I can say that I have never heard of an accident from operations of the kind that I have been describing; and I would ask your Lordships to take in that point.

The National Farmers' Union have strongly expressed their view that the farmers of England should not be debarred from protecting their crops by the use of shotguns. I hope that the House will note that the shotgun is now debarred on deer and was phased out over, I think, five years, as is suggested here, in the densely populated and intensively farmed, and well-farmed, country of Holland. That is the rule now. Thus, I feel that we can at least look at some alternative way of bringing in measures of this kind, even if it takes a little longer than we were hoping, and that we can look to the understanding, co-operation and willingness to learn of the farming community. The British Deer Society must, and I am sure will, make efforts through precept and example to educate people with responsibilities in the countryside in how, most expeditiously and in accordance with British standards of fair play, to deal with this fairly new phenomenon. This will entail the training of a cadre of people all over the country, which has already started, but the numbers are probably insufficient and the geographical coverage is not wide enough.

Before I leave the subject, there are certain inaccuracies in the paper which some of your Lordships will have received from the National Farmers' Union. I must address this point to those of your Lordships who have received, as I have, their circular letter—we have since heard much the same from the noble Lord sitting on my right—in which the NFU make the insinuation that the British Deer Society are aiming for a virtual monopoly of deer killing over agricultural land in England and Wales. The British Deer Society is not simply a shooting organisation. Many of our members do shoot and they are very skilled at it, but that is not a generous interpretation by a big and powerful organisation, the National Farmers' Union, of the motivation of a small and dedicated society, an interpretation which I hope the former will have the grace to withdraw with no less emphasis than they have given expression to this unworthy and damaging thought.

I said that there were two main difficulties. The other is that with which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, dealt so frankly and explicitly at the outset, and I am so glad that he did. It revolves around the danger of this good Bill being seized upon by others, perhaps in another place, and twisted for some purpose other than that which was intended by those who laboured so long and hard to make it an instrument of the sound and humane management and control of deer in this country. I am, of course, referring to the stag hounds of the West Country. I think I am right in saying that there are still three packs. I was born and nurtured down there, and in my early youth I was steeped in the great traditions of the warmhearted and great-hearted people of the West Country. I should hate anything that passed through the House in this Bill and connected with the name of Dulverton, which I bear, to damage in any way the West Country stag hounds. That is a sentimental point but there is another absolutely practical point, and I promise your Lordships that it is my last. If the stag hounds were stopped or if they ceased to exist, only a very short time would elapse before the wild red deer of the West Country ceased also to exist. It nearly happened during the war when they had to cut down their activities. I thank your Lordships for bearing with me for longer than I had reason to expect. That is, I promise your Lordships, my last point.

8.53 p.m.

The Duke of ATHOLL

My Lords, first I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dormer on his maiden speech. As I made my maiden speech on the Deer (Scotland) Bill, as it then was, in 1959, I have a great affection for noble Lords who venture into controversy by making their maiden speeches on Bills connected with deer. The subject seems to attract a great deal of interest. I do not think that I can put it any higher than that.

This is the first time that I have spoken on the subject without having to declare an interest. I own no land in England or Wales, except for the very small area upon which my London house stands, and that certainly does not have marauding deer coming on to it. Although, as my noble friend Lord Dulverton has said, I am a member of the Red Deer Commission, its remit does not extend South of the Border, for which I, for one, am very grateful as I find that we have quite enough to occupy our minds in dealing with the problems of the red deer North of the Border.

Your Lordships may well wonder why I should want to speak tonight. There are two reasons. First, I have always been very interested in the welfare of deer and therefore am a natural supporter of the Bill. Secondly, if it passes into law, as I hope it will, I feel that eventually it may have an effect on legislation for Scotland. In an ideal world, obviously there would be no need for the Bill. Unfortunately, this world is not ideal. Poaching and illegal shooting exist and I am assured—and I am sure that this is right—that they are very common in many parts of England.

As we have already heard from various noble Lords, in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, great cruelty is involved in this illegal shooting. I am sure therefore that there is no one in this House who does not support the principle of the Bill, and we all hope that tonight it will receive an unopposed Second Reading. However, there are two points in the Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. The first comes in Clause 6 and relates to the total ban on the sale of venison 10 days after the start of the close season for a particular species. I appreciate that many people feel that this is the only way of preventing poaching, but are we morally justified in insisting that much perfectly good meat, legitimately shot by farmers and others in defence of their crops or their woods, should go to waste? I suspect not.

The ban on the sale of dead wild geese has been accompanied by an explosion in their numbers. Farmers cannot get people to shoot them because cartridges, as most of us are only too well aware, are very expensive; and you cannot sell the geese afterwards. The geese are doing a very considerable amount of damage, certainly in the central parts of Perthshire, and I feel that some of the damage is due to the ban afterwards on the sale of geese. Admittedly, the ban on the sale of venison is not so extreme because it applies only during the close season of the species concerned. However, I feel that a similar problem might arise. Also, I feel that it is wrong that one should not be able to use perfectly good meat.

I should like to point out that most marauding takes place out of season, although as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has pointed out, the seasons in this Bill are considerably shorter than those which apply in Scotland. To a certain extent, therefore, the position would be better. I support the Bill. In fact, I introduced the Bill which registered venison dealers in Scotland. However, I think that there are differences between the situation in Scotland and that in England, the main one being, as has already been pointed out, that the officers of the Red Deer Commission, who are very knowledgeable about such matters, have the power to inspect the books of the venison dealers in Scotland. Secondly, venison dealers are separately registered and do not have to be game dealers. It would be useful if the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, considered that point at the Committee stage of the Bill because there are many people, like butchers, who to a certain extent deal in venison, but not in game. I think that it would be better if there were a separate licence for venison dealers.

There is a minor technical difficulty over banning the sale of venison during the close season: that sometimes it is very difficult when the carcases have been skinned to tell the difference between the sexes. The sexes have different close seasons, of course. I hope that this point will be borne in mind. I hesitate to say what conditions are like down here, but in Scotland the sale of the carcases of marauding deer is regarded as slight compensation for the amount of damage that they may have done. Again I feel that this point should be taken into consideration.

Then there is a danger that venison shot out of season in England might be sent up to Scotland and sold there. It would be perfectly legitimate to sell it there, as there is no ban on the sale of out of season venison to registered dealers in Scotland. I should like to see some more flexible system adopted so that marauding deer, legitimately shot by the occupier of the land in defence of his crops, could be sold without sending them to Scotland. This would to some extent recompense the farmer for the damage done to his crops.

The second major point which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention is this—and I will be very brief because this is developing into a long debate: Before you can shoot deer out of season in defence of your crops you have to show that they are doing serious damage. I am not all that happy about that. My experience with deer coming down from a hill—and I appreciate that this may not apply to deer coming in from woods—is that the sooner you shoot them when they start getting into your crops, the better, before they get the taste of the turnips, or whatever is the crop. I personally prefer the words used in the Scottish Act: It shall not be an offence for an occupier of agricultural land or enclosed woodlands to take or kill during the period specified in that subsection"— that is the one referring to close seasons— any deer found on any such arable land, garth grounds or land laid down in permanent grass as aforesaid, or on such woodlands as the case may be. Under the Scottish Act you do not have to wait until the deer has done serious damage before you can shoot it out of season. I think it is a little illogical for the farmer or the forester to have to wait until he can prove that the deer are doing serious damage.

As I have said, I very much hope that this Bill will get a Second Reading. I support it. The cruelty attached to the poaching and illegal killing of deer must be stopped, but at the same time, as we all recognise, deer can do much damage to most crops and trees and occupiers are, as this Bill recognises, entitled to defend their crops. We must get the balance right, and that is something which we shall have to weigh up carefully at the Committee stage.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for bringing this Bill forward. It will cause him much worry and fuss, take up a lot of his time and necessitate his writing innumberable letters, and I have every sympathy with him on that. I hope we can get it on to the Statute Book. If we do, I am sure it will give him great satisfaction, and he will deserve the thanks of all of us.

9.2 p.m.


My Lords, the hour is late and I hope I shall not keep your Lordships long, but I want to join with other noble Lords in giving a welcome to this Bill and also to take the opportunity of congratulating my noble friend Lord Dormer on his excellent maiden speech. I hope we shall have the pleasure of hearing him again soon and often.

The Deer Act of 1963 has done a useful job but it needs to be brought up to date and strengthened in some of its provisions, which is what this Bill proposes to do. In particular, the poaching by organised gangs has reached a very serious pitch in some parts of the country, as we have already heard. The penalties for the unauthorised killing of deer must be increased to the point where they become a serious deterrent. Deer of all species are among the most attractive creatures which we have in these Islands. It is fascinating to watch them and to study their habits. I have seen them in various parts of the country, sometimes in the most unexpected places. For instance, in Surrey I have a bungalow at Bisley Camp, and once or twice I have seen deer there when I have been driving in late at night. Only about ten days ago I was walking round the ranges, and on the butt of one of the ranges itself I found large numbers of footprints of deer, some of them very fresh which must have been made only the previous night. Obviously they are not disturbed or worried by the shooting which goes on at the Bisley ranges or the Pirbright ranges next door. They stay happily in the woods during the day and come out at night to feed.

Of course the damage that deer cause to crops and young trees is a serious problem, so they must be kept under control. Obviously the feeling uppermost in the thoughts of everyone who has spoken here this evening is that the control of deer must be carried out in the most humane way possible. I am not really happy to see shotguns permitted for the control of deer. Their effective range is very limited and they can cause prolonged and great suffering. It is very tempting to take a shot at too great a distance. That only results in peppering the deer, which goes away with a number of pellets in it and it can go through the most terrible agonies.

I notice that in this Bill the permitted size of shot in shotguns has been reduced from that commonly known as SSG to that known as AAA. I am told that the reason is that the denser pattern with a larger charge of smaller shot increases the chance of hitting a vital part of the deer, and I can understand that very well. At the same time, smaller pellets also have less striking energy and it is really a case of finding the optimum size of shot which will still be effective at normal distances, preferably not above 20 yards. But it is a compromise. I would rather see shotguns prohibited altogether. The rifle is much more effective and humane, and I do not think the difficulties which some noble Lords have mentioned are really as great as they are made out to be. It is perfectly possible for anyone to achieve reasonable proficiency with a rifle at the distances at which he might reasonably be expected to shoot deer, if he has to do so, especially in England and Wales where he is likely to be shooting them in woodlands or in fairly close country and not at long distances.

In the United Kingdom we have been for many years so hedged around with firearms legislation of a highly restrictive nature that the police have got into the habit of viewing applicants for firearms certificates with the gravest suspicion. Also, chief constables in different parts of the country interpret the Firearms Act in widely differing ways. One chief constable's idea of what constitutes a safe place to use a rifle may not coincide with the views of his neighbour in the next police area. Furthermore, prospective applicants for firearms certificates tend to be frightened off by the formalities which have to be gone through. I hope that the proposed five-year period for the elimination of shotguns can be looked on as a period of education for both the farmers and the police, to get the farmers used to the idea of looking on a rifle as a natural weapon with which deer should be controlled, and to get the police into a more amenable frame of mind over the issue of firearms certificates.

The rifle is quite safe in densely populated country, as my noble friend Lord Dulverton told us a few minutes ago, if the proper precautions are observed. Using a high seat, where you are firing at a steep angle downwards towards the ground, the bullet does not escape; it generally breaks up, especially if you are using an expanding bullet, which is prescribed in this Bill. A soft-nosed or expanding bullet will 999 times out of a thousand break up when it hits the ground, whether it has missed or hit the deer. So the danger is, I think, very much exaggerated. If, as my noble friend told us, a rifle is the only permitted weapon in such a densely populated country as Holland, we cannot go very far wrong if we follow that example. So I hope that by the end of the five-year period both the farmers and the police will have overcome their objections to the use of rifles.

A certain amount has been said about Clause 4 and the question of trespass in pursuit of deer. I am speaking off the cuff here and I am open to correction, but I think I am right in saying that similar provisions already exist in the Firearms Act and in the Acts in relation to game. Of course, deer are not classed as game as such, along with, for example, pheasants and partridges. But I think the objections to this clause in the present Bill are probably unfounded. My noble friend Lord Mansfield mentioned the point about following up a wounded deer which has been legally shot at but has run on to neighbouring land. Obviously there is an obligation to follow up that deer and dispatch it as quickly and as humanely as possible. I am sure that point can be met by a relatively simple Amendment to Clause 17 in Committee. There are other points which also need further consideration in Committee. I join with other noble Lords in wishing this Bill a speedy passage through this House. I think we all ought to be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for introducing it.

9.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for introducing and steering this important Bill through your Lordships' House. Any measure which at one and the same time is designed to cut out inhumanity, promote the conservation of animals, and eases the enforcement of the law, which at present serves of little benefit to anyone, must be welcomed. I should perhaps say that I am a member of the British Deer Society and also of the British Field Sports Society, both societies whose aims and achievements I thoroughly applaud. I am also a farmer, regretfully not a member of the National Farmers' Union, but I can well appreciate the difficulties and troubles which many farmers have to put up with from marauding deer, and they have my every sympathy. I mention these points because I know there is a great deal of opposition from these organisations, if not to the Bill as a whole, certainly to the more important clauses. This is a great pity, because I believe that the fears are not based on sound fact. The principal objection to the Bill seems to be in relation to the prohibition of the use of shotguns, on which my noble friend Lord Swansea has just addressed us. I hope I shall not repeat what he has had to say.

The National Farmers' Union complains that it is illogical to ban shotguns now on red and sika deer but to retain their use for five years for all other types. I agree with that. In my view, shotguns should be prohibited forthwith for all types of deer and we should not have to wait the five years. The weapon is totally unsuitable and invariably causes considerable pain and wounding. Today in your Lordships' House we have discussed the Cruelty to Animals Bill. It seems rather unfortunate that that Bill was not given a Second Reading and yet we are in some danger of allowing a measure to go through which will cause pain and thereby cruelty to the animals covered by it. I see no reason whatever why farmers who have a deer problem should not be allowed quite easily to possess a rifle. My noble friend Lord Mansfield said that large rifles would have to be obtained. I think that possibly he painted a slightly inaccurate picture. Large rifles are not necessary for culling deer. A calibre of about.243 inches is quite large enough to be effective. On the other hand, the shotgun is not only a more expensive weapon than the rifle but is certainly much less effective.

The dangers of having weapons "pinched" from unlocked kitchens apply just as much to shotguns as they do to rifles. I should be interested to know the number of criminal cases that have come to light where rifles have been used in preference to sawn-off shotguns. I would suspect that the shotgun is a more attractive weapon than the rifle. It is a false argument to say that public security is at risk. As your Lordships know, deer feed in the early morning and after that retire to the woods for the rest of the day. The general public are seldom about at dawn and therefore the danger of anyone getting shot by a farmer stalking deer is very slight.

It is not true to say the the police would view the increase of applications for firearms certificates with alarm. Quite the contrary—I understand that they would welcome it on humane grounds and because it would make enforcement of the law very much easier. The NFU also fears that police would not issue certificates. I do not know why that should be so. If that were to happen, appropriate action could be taken. The NFU also argues that the control that the Deer Society has attempted to establish in many parts is incomplete. This may be so, and it is quite right for the farmer to be allowed to defend his crops—but it must be with the right weapon. The shotgun does not qualify for that description in this context.

Apart from the poacher and the farmer, the only people who still regularly use a shotgun on red deer are, I think—and if the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, were here he would correct me—the members of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds who from time to time organise deer drives principally to cull surplus hinds as hunting alone does not seem to kill a sufficient number. The hunt maintains that these shotgun deer drives are the only effective method of deer control, and claims that all wounded deer are always followed up by hounds and accounted for. If the banning of the shotgun on red deer comes about, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds would have to make other arrangements for culling surplus deer.

A solution could be to appoint one or two suitably trained forest rangers who during the autumn staghunting season could act as harbourers, while during the winter hind hunting season they could selectively kill surplus hinds in those areas where stock are too high. A comparison can surely be made with the manner in which the Forestry Commission now go about deer control. At one time it was their practice to drive the deer to men armed with shotguns, but now the rifle has replaced the gun, and quite apart from being more humane, far better results are being achieved.

Some 25 years ago, the Scott Henderson Committee made a thorough examination into the question of cruelty to wild animals, and their report was, and I quote from Cruelty to Wild Animals, Cmnd. Paper No. 8266: … the shooting of deer with shotguns must inevitably be accompanied by a great deal of suffering. Twenty-six years has not made the shotgun any less cruel.

I should like to applaud in particular two important features of the Bill. The first relates to close seasons. In the Deer Act 1963, while there is provision for close seasons for both sexes of red, fallow, and sika deer, only the roe doe is accorded any such protection. The new Bill, therefore, provides not only the roe buck with a close season but also those two small Asiatic deer which have now established themselves in a feral state in parts of Central and Southern England—namely the muntjac and the Chinese water deer. The close season proposed for roe bucks extends from 1st November until 31st March, which is entirely right, for many of the older bucks will have their antlers clean by this date and with the spring foliage not yet much in evidence, one can be more selective.

For the muntjac and Chinese water deer, it has been decided, very sensibly, to provide both sexes with the same close season as already exists for all other female deer in England. A "unisex" close season for these two small deer is a wise decision, for distinction between the sexes in the field—particularly the Chinese water deer, in which neither sex bears antlers—can be extremely difficult in cover or when the animal is in flight. Thus, giving both sexes the same open season avoids giving anyone an excuse for killing "by mistake" the wrong sex out of season. Furthermore, it will enable both sexes to be killed during the winter months when the undergrowth is at its minimum.

The second provision is that contained in Part III. Venison in this country is at present currently worth almost more than lamb or beef and, as such, ought to be making a valuable contribution to our food supplies, particularly as it costs virtually nothing to produce. It is quite wrong to allow this important product to be badly managed or be the subject of large-scale indiscriminate killing, as is the case today. The quantity of illegally killed venison reaching our tables today is fairly considerable, and provisions contained in Part III should effectively block the existing outlets.

It is not only from the poaching angle that I find these provisions highly important; there is a health aspect as well. As many of your Lordships may know, two years ago it became the rule that any venison to be exported had to be handled in an extremely hygienic fashion, and to pass a veterinary officer's inspection to see that it was fit for human consumption. I can think of very good reasons why similar regulations should be made for venison supplied to the home market. After all, any bullock, pig or sheep so killed in our abattoirs is inspected by Ministry of Agriculture officials before it is allowed to be sold to the general public, so why cannot our venison be treated likewise? I wonder whether the noble Lord would accept a new clause to this effect at Committee stage.

Finally, I would suggest that the method of keeping records as prescribed might be looked at again. There is another method which, in my view, might be simpler and more effective; namely, the tagging of carcases. At this extremely late hour I certainly do not wish to deal with this in detail, but briefly the system works that each owner applies to the appropriate authority, which in Scotland would presumably be the Red Deer Commission, for a number of tags to cover the number of beasts that he knows he wants to cull in any one season. The tags would have the name of the property on them and the issue of such tags would be recorded. The tag would then be attached to the carcase, removed by the dealer when it reached his premises and retained by him for presentation to an inspector from time to time. The dealer would be prohibited from accepting any carcase without a tag, and therefore if he sold more carcases than he had tags, questions would be asked. If it became necessary for a farmer to kill marauding deer to defend his crops, special permission could easily be obtained from the authorities for him to kill and for the dealer to accept the carcases.

That would go a long way very speedily to remove a substantial amount of poaching. I should be interested to know if this method has been considered and whether it would work in England. Certainly so far as red deer in Scotland are concerned, action along these lines is imperative and I hope it will not be long before we see legislation to that effect. I hope the Bill will be given an unopposed Second Reading and I look forward to seeing it put on the Statute Book speedily.

9.26 p.m.

Viscount RIDLEY

My Lords, knowing the propensity for your Lordships to talk at length about animals, I am rather sorry that we have had two such important Bills on the same day; I should have thought that it warranted two days to discuss these matters, and I shall be interested to see what length of speeches we get when your Lordships discuss Bullock tomorrow. I speak as an ex-president of the British Deer Society, and I wish briefly to pay tribute to what that Society has done during its existence to increase interest in, and care for, deer all over Britain.

As well as the increased knowledge and study of deer, has come, as has been mentioned, the increased knowledge of the control of the deer population which has been rendered so necessary because deer have been suffering—if "suffering" is the word—a population explosion of unprecedented magnitude all over Britain in the last 20 years, as has the price of venison. I remember that only 10 years ago many of my neighbours would say, "Please come and shoot these beastly deer which are eating all my roses ". Now they say, "Please try to find me a fat, rich German who will come and shoot the deer and pay me £150 each for doing so". That is the measure of the success that our knowledge of deer has increased over this period.

I thoroughly support the primary purpose of the Bill, which is to stop the illegal killing and poaching of deer. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has spoken at such length about this with such graphic descriptions that I will not weary your Lordships with anything further. I believe it is absolutely vital that we have the Bill to prevent this abuse and the terrible things he described to us. I was sorry that my noble friend Lord Mansfield felt it necessary to give the Bill rather a tepid reception from the Front Bench of the Party to which I belong; I had rather hoped that we would have had something more enthusiastic from him and from others on this side of the House who are interested in landowning and the welfare of animals.

My noble friend made several points which are worthy of careful thought and his natural and right concern that stag hunting be not dragged into the Bill in any shape or form is an important point which we must look at. He mentioned in particular the clause which allows the entry on to land in pursuit of deer and the problems that could cause in stag hunting areas. I wonder whether we could consider in due course an Amendment to exclude just those parts of England where stag hunting still goes on. I should have thought it would be possible to exclude them from the clause, although that may not be so easy.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the use of shotguns to control deer. Personally, I feel it is absolutely abhorrent and revolting that people still use shotguns for the control of deer, and it is even worse to think that they might control or protect their crops by blazing away with shotguns at deer in a cornfield. That seems to me to be a most appalling thing to do. We may have to look with very great care at the National Farmers' Union's case that this law might not be enforceable. We also need to know more about the reactions of the police force to this. I can see a problem in that chief constables would not issue every small-holder with a firearms certificate to buy a rifle and I can see this reaching the stage when the law would not be obeyed, and we would not wish to be associated with laws which cannot be enforced.

I am not sure about the period of five years and whether it would not be wiser to compromise and have a longer period, during which I hope that the National Farmers' Union and everybody else concerned will try to educate their members not to use shotguns on deer but to acquire the proper rifles with the proper permission to use them. In short, I think that it is possible that we should be prepared to compromise, because it is so important to get the rest of this Bill through. In order to get the support of the National Farmers' Union it may, as has been said before, be necessary to make changes in this part of the Bill at the Committee stage.

For instance, danger has been mentioned. I believe that, in many people's minds, the idea that a rifle bullet can travel a very long distance over flat countryside is a threat. I live in a fairly flat part of the world and I am very frightened in certain places where I should like to fire a rifle at deer but sometimes cannot. There are ways round this, but it is not always easy to remember that a rifle bullet is lethal at such a tremendous range. I believe I am right in saying that in some of the States of America the use of a rifle has been banned because there were so many accidents to other hunters and domestic livestock. There, it is only possible to use a shotgun to control deer and that is a different situation from what we have here. I should never support that, but it shows that we cannot quite write off the dangers of indiscriminate rifle shooting in England where there are so many small farmers, all of whom would claim that they had a right to own a firearm. I believe that we must look at this again.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made several points, two of which were good ones. As he only had two points, if he will forgive me, I will describe him as a "switch" not a "royal" on this occasion. The first point was on the Deer Commission, and that has been dealt with so I shall say no more about it; but the noble Viscount made a very good point about the seasons being the same in Scotland as in England. I believe that this wants looking at. I venture to suggest that, not for the first time, the Scots are behind the English in some of their legislation. Maybe they should move to keep up-to-date and follow the proposals in this Bill for close seasons, which I think are very reasonable and a great advance on what we now have. There is a case because venison could undoubtedly be shipped across the Border in one or the other way and sold in the close season. At this moment, Scottish game dealers come down and buy venison in England quite legitimately. I think that we could look at that again and amend the Scottish laws if necessary. I shall not waste time on discussing how one might do that. If we can improve the Bill it will be to the benefit of everybody.

My final point is this. It appears from what has been said, not in this House but outside it, that the British Field Sports Society is opposing the Bill. I should like to know whether this is the case and, if so, why. It seems that the Society has introduced in another place three small Bills which are parts of the present Bill. Two of them seem to have been shot with a shotgun or maybe they were shot with a rifle. I am not certain. I hope that, in the future progress of this Bill through this House and the other place, we can have agreement from the BFSS and everybody else concerned on the very desirable aims and objectives of the Bill, and that they will support in another place what we are trying to do here and what the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has so ably introduced to us tonight. I therefore end by supporting the Bill, with the reservations that I have made. I was particularly glad to see the willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, to compromise. In that spirit, we shall get the main purpose of the Bill which I shall do my best to help when the time comes.

9.34 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dormer on his most interesting maiden speech. I thank him very much. There are really only two aspects of the Bill which disturb me. Like many of your Lordships, I have had countless trees destroyed by roe deer since 1961. However a kind neighbour with a rifle has been culling them and now the stock is controllable and healthy. This has produced a very satisfactory balance with nature. However, any great increase in the number of persons allowed firearms licences might upset that balance. I know that the police are extremely strict in dealing with any applications to shoot with a rifle, but, agreeing with my noble friend Lord Mansfield, I ask: do we risk overburdening the police, whether it be now or in five years' time? We live in a climate of violence which may escalate, and the police have to protect everyone's interest.

The British Deer Society may well be able to cope with all the extra demands which might be made on it and it is a highly responsible body, but I have a fear that some other, all-powerful, organisation, covering the whole country, could spring up. Might it even become yet another Governmental Department? Of course all deer should be killed as humanely as possible, but do we really need more legislation to achieve this? That is a question that I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Northfield; but despite my query, I support his Bill and wish him luck with it.

9.36 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, because I was not present to hear his opening speech; this I greatly regret. But I welcome the Bill in general terms, and I speak at this late hour only because I live in a far corner of England which is one of the few places where there have always been some deer, both red deer and roe deer, right through history, and not just introduced in either the 18th or the 19th century. Therefore I would think that we in the North-West of England are probably more deer conscious than are people in other parts of England, if not as excited as the Scots always appear to be about deer. This interest is a very good thing because deer are the largest and among the most interesting of our mamals; and the interest is growing. Nor is it just something found among tourists. In the North-West of England the numbers of deer are not such as to cause much damage, except in a very few small areas. None the less, we must try to meet the legitimate interests of farmers in those areas. But this is a matter for the Committee stage, and with good will I do not see why some solution cannot be worked out.

Next, on the question of control, I would say that control does not by any means just mean reducing numbers—shooting the first deer that one sees. Whatever we do, we must find the right balance between the danger from the use of rifles by people who have never been trained how to use them, and those who have absurd faith in the killing power of big pellets in a 12 bore cartridge, which even at 20 yards can show such a dispersed pattern that wounding is much more likely than killing.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Ridley that in some parts of enclosed country, such as his and ours, one has to be very careful before using a rifle; because a careless shot can well carry over a motorway. All this means discipline, training and schooling from teenage years upwards, which many people who see deer eating their crops have not had. There can be a real danger in putting a rifle in the hands of somebody who has not had a certain amount of training in the Army or elsewhere. But a sporting rifle is not the best weapon for robbing a bank, and I wonder whether all chief constables consider this when refusing certificates. And do they all work on the same lines, because magnificent men though most of them are, I do not look upon them as omniscient, any more than any other group of men is omniscient.

With regard to poaching penalties, I believe that they must without doubt be brought into line with today's money values and today's price of meat. In this, as in so many other matters, there should be closer liaison between England and Scotland. I find this all-important. Are the penalties the same on both sides of the Border? If not, they ought to be. I understood my noble friend the Duke of Atholl to say that there should be much closer liaison between the two sides of the Border. That suggestion I welcome. My Lords, however high meat prices may rise, possible fines, even if they do not reflect a Botany Bay attitude, should at least show that poaching does not pay. I say this because poaching with a firearm, whether it is a shotgun or a rifle, is just as dangerous to others as drinking and driving—something which takes up so much of police and magistrates' time, and which should be taken seriously.

9.40 p.m.


My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House I must first of all say that I have never shot deer, either with a shotgun or with a rifle, and I have had no connection with any estates owning deer: I have merely been an onlooker. I welcome this Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. I think it is an extremely good Bill; and I must thank Mr. Hotchkis most sincerely for all the time he gave me when I was asking questions about it. I can assure Lord Northfield and Mr. Hotchkis that I give it my full support, apart from what I call Committee detail, and at this late hour I do not propose to go deeply into that.

There are three things which worry me about the Bill. One is the use of shotguns and rifles. One arrives at a situation where great suffering is caused to deer by the use of shotguns and one wants to restrict their use considerably; and then it is said that that must be done by the issue of rifles. I have great sympathy with chiefs of police in this matter. We are facing an outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland, and, although we may or may not like it, one might at one time or other be faced with the same situation in England and Wales. I would not presume to go further North than the Border in view of the prospects of devolution. I have an awful feeling that if one starts granting licences to farmers around the countryside one must, somehow or other, obtain some guarantee, or provide some method, whereby these rifles—or, for that matter, sawn-off shotguns—are properly kept. We are told that the acquisition of sawn-off shotguns and other dangerous weapons for the criminal fraternity is quite easy in urban areas, but there might come a time when it is not so easy; and if we proliferate sawn-off shotguns and rifles around the countryside, one feels that we may be laying out a potential armoury for any ill-natured person who wishes to lay his hands on these things, and providing more easy access to them.

Another thing which worries me slightly is why we should allow this period of five years for the use of shotguns. Personally, I should have liked to see a shorter period. I can see the difficulties in that, and the difficulties in proliferating arms around the country. I can also see the difficulties which are facing chief constables around the country, and I sympathise with them. I should like there to be further control over these guns. That is a matter which we can perhaps go into in Committee.

I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for referring to me in his opening address and to the subject of the destruction of dogs, which are used in this matter. One has a principle—at least, I have: how many other people have it, I do not know—that one should never penalise an animal for the action of its owners. I am extremely grateful to him for his reference to the fact that he would accept a small Amendment to that effect in Committee.

My Lords, the other thing which rather worried me concerns the rather kindly disposed persons who will find what they think to be the abandoned calf, or whatever it may be called, of a deer. They will take it home with them and, as I know has happened in a number of cases, will successfully rear it. According to this Bill, you are not allowed to remove a deer from one area to another. I am a little worried as to the meaning of the word "area". It is one of those things which, as is the case in many Bills which pass through your Lordships' House, a rather closer look at the wording may resolve. Apart from that, I should like to say that I am fully in support of the principles of the Bill, and any help that I can give it to go through the Committee stage I shall only be too willing to give.

9.46 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for having so ably introduced this Bill. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, on his maiden speech and I very much welcome his support. I am sure your Lordships will agree that he put the case in a most persuasive and competent manner. The question has been raised as to why there should have been so many Scottish Peers interested in what appears to be an English Bill. The suggestion has been made that perhaps we are worried about devolution. So far as I am concerned, it has nothing to do with that. I am still a tenant farmer near Burton.

My Lords, deer is an emotive subject about which there is still much ignorance, but an enormous amount has been learned about deer in recent years. Knowledge and experience have developed enormously since 1963. Unfortunately, not only have the best methods of controlling them been learned and developed; there have been other technical developments which have not proved so satisfactory. The 1963 Act, so far as it goes, has generally proved useful but there are many flaws and loopholes, partly those brought about by new technical developments. These badly need stopping up and the Bill should be strengthened. A substantial effort has been made in this Bill to update the 1963 Act to the satisfaction, I think, of the vast majority. It has been suggested that, in place of this Bill, the 1963 Act should be amended, but I am afraid that if you go into this you will find it a terrible hotchpotch which would be probably little more than a lawyers' paradise.

I heard some fears voiced. Many of these, I believe, are ill-founded. I agree that some Amendments may have to be made. I hope that we can get an agreed Bill after the next two stages. As has already been agreed by most people, most of the Bill is highly desirable. There has been some apprehension expressed as to the view of the police in this matter, but I understand that the police have been widely consulted and that with one accord they agree that the Bill is a highly desirable piece of legislation to enable them to enforce the existing law.

I think that the NFU hand-out which many of your Lordships will have seen, can be largely ignored. Alas! In spite of being a farmer in England, I saw this document only this evening, but there are in this hand-out a number of technological inexactitudes. My noble friend Lord Dulverton has already mentioned one. As an instance of another, the Bill does not propose an immediate ban on the shooting of roe deer, as the hand-out suggested. The Bill proposes an immediate ban on the use of shotguns on red and sika only; and not roe deer. Their objection to the number of persons being allowed to pursue deer with shotguns is almost certainly misconceived. Shooting in groups, killing indiscriminately, will almost invariably murder the hinds, leaving motherless calves. I need not say much more about this as your Lordships were fully enlightened on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Somers.

The worries about the use of rifles are also misconceived, as was explained by the expert on firearms, Lord Swansea, and many other noble Lords. The NFU and, I regret to say, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, are wrong in attributing deer control societies to the British Deer Society. The control bodies are individual organisations affiliated to a federation which has very strict regulations. Indeed, the British Deer Society specifies that anyone using the name of the Deer Society to secure stalking will be immediately removed from the list of members of the Society. The NFU themselves have tried to get similar organisations started for the control of rabbits.

So far as deer in Scotland are concerned, there are very many more red deer there than in England. We were worried about the use of shotguns on red deer in Scotland and made an approach to the Red Deer Commission. Their answer for not introducing any legislation on banning shotguns for red deer was that they had made a survey of the carcases submitted to the various dealers and during that year they had found in Scotland, I believe, no carcases with shotgun pellets in them. That shows that the worries about the shooting of a few red deer in England are ill-founded.

There is also the possibility of wounding which we have heard about this evening. I have had the misfortune of having to shoot two blind stags. There is nothing more pitiful or painful than to see these animals struggling. One was on a public highway trying to dodge the cars, and the cars were trying to dodge it. The deer had broken knees and looked in a most pitiful state. One stag had been wounded, probably by a crofter with a shotgun, and the other by a poacher. I also shot a stag in which, when it was skinned, three different sized pellets were found. I do not know if any noble Lords have had the misfortune of being shot with a shotgun, but I can assure your Lordships that it is extremely painful.

One more observation on the NFU paper. It shows another inaccuracy in remarks about the size of shot. In fact, what the Bill proposes is not a larger shot but a smaller one. The NFU paper shows it the other way round. The answer, as the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said, was the intention that there should be a better pattern of shot, which would be given with smaller pellets rather than bigger ones. At the present time over 16,000 deer a year are shot with a rifle in England and Wales. Perhaps more amazing still is the fact that at least 300 to 400 roe deer are shot with a rifle each year south of the Thames within a 40 mile radius of your Lordships' House. It is not likely that there is a more densely populated area in the country than will be found in that 40 mile radius. This gives the answer to those who, in their ignorance—and, 15 years ago. I would have been among them—feel that control by rifle is not feasible or practicable.

It has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Mansfield and some other noble Lords that there is a danger in the Bill about the possibility of the pursuit of wounded animals. I agree that this must be looked at either before or in the Committee stage. I should like to issue a warning to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, after his remarks on having no close season for muntjac deer or Chinese water deer. I know that a certain naturalist would be, to say the least, angry, and he is likely to be suing the noble Viscount without any close season! The noble Viscount was also worried about gamekeepers having to keep records. I am afraid that I was not able fully to follow his reasoning on that point. I think he was suggesting that licensing of venison dealers, as is done in Scotland, might be better; but I cannot agree with him on that point. The licence can be bought for a very small sum of money—I believe 50p—which will last that individual for the whole of his lifetime and cannot be removed for any offence whatsoever. The noble Viscount wondered why it was necessary that records should be kept. Perhaps we might ask: why should records be kept for game or salmon? It is, of course, to prevent the unlawful sale of those products.

Again, I agree with my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard on the question of a close season for stags. My noble friend was worried that there was a different season; but the situation is different. On the Continent, the close season for stags is very similar to that which I believe is proposed in this Bill. The reason is that the deer in the Lowland areas are in sheltered woodland and good ground, and therefore their stags will recover very much more quickly after the rut. However, the Red Deer Commission are not altogether such a thoughtful body in this respect as the noble Lord would have us believe, as they will permit many wretched Highland stags which, as the noble Viscount said, are in a thin, poor and smelly condition, to be killed in the winter. Indeed, I am ashamed to say that half the stags shot in Scotland are shot out of season and in the condition described by the noble Viscount. I would suggest that a great deal of that killing is brought about not to protect crops but by the desire to make money out of those animals. Therefore, I would disagree with my noble friend the Duke of Atholl on that point, although I certainly agree with the rest of what he said. In England, where the proposed seasons will be longer and the circumstances different, there is no reason why the sale should not be banned shortly after the season closes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, was worried about crop protection. Twelve years ago, I myself could not possibly have seen how enough deer, and particularly roe does, could be killed on my ground each year in the required time with a rifle. I have since learned that in fact one can shoot with a rifle far more deer than one should do to secure the right number for a cull. It is partly a matter for education, and that is why a five-year period of grace has been put into the Bill. I think my noble friend who has just spoken was wondering why there should be a five-year period; it is to give an opportunity for people to educate themselves more than they are in a position to do at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook has told me that he has had to leave in order to catch his train, and he has asked me to make his apologies on that account. I hasten to do so, and I know that your Lordships will be sorry that he has had to leave because, as we all know, he is particularly knowledgeable on any subject connected with wildlife. I believe he is particularly worried about the explosion of the deer population in certain areas. We both feel it is desirable that the Government should perhaps have some advisory body on deer—that has been mentioned by several other speakers—and possibly also some body to which a farmer with a deer problem could turn for advice. The Bill would do a great deal to stop the appalling cruelty about which we have heard so much today, and accordingly I strongly commend it to your Lordships.

The Duke of ATHOLL

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he say what is his figure for the number of stags shot out of season in Scotland?


My Lords, unfortunately, I left in a hurry and I omitted to bring the exact figures. But if I am not mistaken—and I may well be wrong—there are about 10,000 or 12,000 shot in season. The noble Lord who has been on the Red Deer Commission will probably know the figure better than I do, but I believe that a total of 25,000 stags are shot each year, which means that as many are shot out of season as in season.

The Duke of ATHOLL

My Lords, if my noble friend checks his figures, I think he will find that under 10 per cent of the stags shot in Scotland are shot out of season.


I may be wrong, my Lords.

10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, on his maiden speech. He raised a good many points with great economy of words, and that always endears one to your Lordships' House. I shall try to emulate him this evening in putting the Government's view with regard to the Bill of my noble friend Lord Northfield. Let me make it perfectly clear at the beginning that the Government welcome this Bill as a means of strengthening the law against cruelty to deer. Having said that, I am bound to draw your Lordships' attention to a number of features some of which are not acceptable to the Government, and others of which ought to be scrutinised most carefully, which I imagine will be done in the usual processes of the Committee stage.

My noble friend Lord Northfield explained clearly the provisions of each clause, so I do not think any useful purpose will be served by my going through the clauses. I think I can be of most service to your Lordships by listing those ways in which the Bill sets out to achieve its aims, which we believe are, for want of a better word, misguided, and we would feel impelled either to attempt to remove or to amend in the Committee stage. I refer, in particular, to the provision in Clause 22 which would apply the Bill to the Crown, but would not authorise proceedings to be brought against Her Majesty in her private capacity. As your Lordships know, it is unusual for any Bill to be expressed to bind the Crown, and the Queen's consent must be signified in such cases before it may reach the Statute Book. My understanding of the matter is that the intention of the Bill's Promoters and supporters is to ensure that the Crown's servants—in particular, officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Forestry Commission—observe the law, especially as to the season, time and manner in which deer may be killed or taken. The Deer Act 1963, which is the present law, does not bind the Crown and the suggestion seems to be that, as a result, Crown servants feel free to ignore it. I can say that, as a matter of public policy, that is not so.

If I put this matter in rather strong terms, it is because we feel it unthinkable that a Crown servant, acting in his official capacity, would be instructed, or encouraged for that matter, to ignore the law of the land. If, on the other hand, he went off on a frolic of his own, he would be liable to prosecution the same as anyone else. We feel that it is not right to bind the Crown in this way. No other modern piece of animal legislation carries a provision of this kind, and we sincerely hope that my noble friend Lord Northfield will feel able to look at this, because it would be a pity if this Bill was in some way jeopardised on its journey to the Statute Book by insistence on the retention of Clause 22. Of course, I leave that to my noble friend. The Government are not—


My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to interrupt? I refrained from interrupting throughout the debate, and I hope that I have been behaving myself. But will my noble friend check on what he said about no other modern Act binding the Crown? Will he have a look, as I suggested in my opening remarks, at the provisions in Scotland which are not very old and which do, in fact, bind the Crown?


My Lords, I will certainly look and will take advice on this matter, but that is the information which I have been given. The Government are not convinced that a case has been made out for control over the sale and purchase of venison, the provisions for which occupy seven clauses making up Part III of the Bill. We appreciate that such statutory control exists for Scotland, and we acknowledge that it seems to work smoothly there.

It is important to remember that the management of deer in that country is under the control of the statutorily established Red Deer Commission and that control over dealings in venison was introduced some years ago after the creation of the Commission as a means of providing that body, for management purposes, with information about the number and location of deer killed outside the larger estates. It was not designed primarily as a means of controlling illegally taken deer, and I would suggest to your Lordships that only firm evidence of a widespread and serious mischief can justify the system of control provided for in the Bill, involving as it does the need for traders to keep detailed accounts available for inspection by local authority officials and the police on pain of prosecution and a fine of up to £500 per carcase. The Government do not believe that a case has been made out for the creation of what might be seen by some people as yet another category of people paid from the public purse to police an accounting system which the determined poacher could, in the view of the Government, evade without too much difficulty of detection.

Another feature of the Bill which, as the sponsors will know—and it was dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield—has caused the Government some concern is the provision in Clause 4(b) which makes it an offence unlawfully to enter or be on any land in search or in pursuit of deer with the intention of taking, killing, injuring or driving deer. I am sure that this provision will not have escaped the notice of those who at certain times of the year enter or are on land for just that purpose. The Government's concern is more particularly with the consequence of this provision. Live deer at present, like other wild animals, do not belong to anybody unless they are reduced to captivity—for example, in a deer park. Clause 4(b) would seem to say, in effect, that the deer become yours once they enter upon your land. The result seems to be that if landowners consequently lawfully kill deer they are the only persons who can enjoy the profits from the sale of venison. It is true, of course, that it is already an offence to poach game—a word, by the way, which in law does not cover venison. But poaching offences were created long ago with the deliberate intention of creating a property in game. The only poaching offence in relation to wild deer, confined to certain Royal forests and estates and one or two other places, was repealed by the Theft Act 1968.

May I say a brief word about the penalties provided for under the Bill. There is to be, for all offences, a single range of penalties which are set out in Clause 16. There can be a fine up to £500, imprisonment for up to three months, or both a fine and imprisonment. The Government believe that the level of the maximum fine is right. Indeed, there is provision in the criminal law, which is still under the scrutiny of your Lordships' House, for the maximum penalty under the present law to be increased, as your Lordships know, to that very figure. The Bill before us goes a little further than that, however. The fine may be imposed in respect of each deer in respect of which the offence is committed. There are precedents for this approach in recent legislation, notably the Badgers Act 1973 and the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Acts 1975. However, it should be remembered that we are speaking about a maximum of £100 and about animals and plants much more in need of protection, some people would argue, than deer.

A blanket approach of this kind to all offences created under the Act would create both uncertainty, and, in the view of the Government—and the Government may be quite wrong about this—an injustice. I wonder what would be the position of the man who enters land stalking a whole herd of deer? In matters of this kind we must look and advise what some of the difficulties may well be. There will clearly be some dispute among witnesses about the size of the herd, which would significantly affect the size of any fine which might be imposed. The man might well contend that he was not in fact pursuing the herd but only one deer, presumably the largest.

It is worth, too, considering the case of the properly licensed dealer in venison who has failed to keep a record of a considerable number of lawful purchases. The Government will certainly seek to amend the penalty provisions—and I must put the Government's point of view—in order that the punishment might fit the crime.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment. I have no doubt he is aware that a fine per animal is already provided for in the game laws and in the badgers conservation Act.


My Lords, I thought that I in fact said that. If the noble Lord reads Hansard tomorrow I think he will find that I said that. I hope that what I have said today will not be dismissed by your Lordships as being a lot of carping criticism, or that I have been ungracious in any way. It is part of the duty of the Government to look at these things and to express what they think. They are not always right, and your Lordships in your wisdom may decide otherwise at the Committee stage. I repeat that the Government applaud this Bill in general and, if I may be permitted to do so, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Northfield on the persuasive way in which he has argued for a reinforcement of the present law. But in matters of legislation we ought not to be blindly over-enthusiastic in our attitude or mindless in our obligation when we come to consider questions of this kind.

I hope that the House and the sponsors of the Bill will take note of the reservations I have expressed today on behalf of the Government, and I believe there will be a good chance that this measure will emerge from Committee in a form better suited to achieving its aim of reducing the amount of cruelty inflicted on wild deer. This is the hope of the Government. I know it is the expressed intention of my noble friend Lord Northfield, and as I said at the beginning of my remarks we approve this Bill, with the exception of the comments and observations that I have made.

10.14 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I shall not inflict another long speech upon your Lordships. I wish to start by thanking noble Lords most warmly for the constructive, kind, indeed generous remarks they have made from all parts of the Chamber about this draft of a Bill to protect deer. I should particularly like to thank those noble Lords—if my calculations were correct, there were 12 out of 16—who gave almost unqualified support to the Bill. I hope this will have some impression on the Committee stage and that we shall not be too easily deterred, as I suggested in my opening remarks, from some of the main principles; not too easily forced into compromise. I should like particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Burton, who has kindly offered to help me with the Committee stage, and the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, who have been particularly persuasive because of their particular knowledge, their own skills and experience of the deer and its habits and the need for control in a dignified and proper manner. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we can deal in detail with most of the points that have been raised.

I should, secondly, like to thank even more warmly than I did at the beginning Mr. Hotchkis of the Deer Society. The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, was very correct, if I may say so, in paying particular tribute to him; I think he deserves the warm appreciation of all of us who care for this kind of measure for the work that he has done, not just now or recently but over many years, with immense dedication and enthusiasm. Thirdly, I would offer my own congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dormer, on his maiden speech. As my noble friend said, he said so much in 11 minutes—I know he was making great efforts to be brief, as these occasions demand. He said so many things that I became envious when I looked at how little I had said in more than twice that length of time. I was particularly grateful for what he said about the consultations he had had with local police about some of the powers suggested in the Bill. That is the sort of information which is very helpful and contributed a great deal to the case for the Bill. I hope he will join us in all the later stages of the Bill. Then, I was particularly glad, too, that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, was able to take part. He is the author of the 1963 Act. It was so very warming to have his commendation of a Bill replacing his own some 14 years later.

Finally, before I deal with one or two points, may I join with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, to this extent. I was slightly sorry about some of the remarks in the leading article in The Field this week. I hope that it will not in any sense be regarded as a Party issue just because somebody with a Labour tag on him introduces this Bill. I join the noble Earl in making that point. I think there was a misunderstanding. I do not think The Field meant to suggest that there was a Party battle; it just misunderstood the situation. I am sure that this can be quite quickly forgotten. Certainly I do not have a very wild Party tag on me, if that is any help to the situation.

My Lords, may I now deal with two or three points before I sit down? First, of course, we want to consider all the possible suggestions for amendment at Committee stage, and I will not try to deal with them all now. But I would mention one or two things. First of all, may I say to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that this business about the sawn-off shotgun really was a red herring. What he has to do, if I may suggest it to him, is to look at the definition in the last Part of the Bill about the use of a slaughtering weapon. He will then see that this is not an open invitation.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, it is not that definition which he wants to go for; it is the 1968 Act. That regards a weapon for certain purposes as being adapted for a certain purpose.


My Lords, I am sure we shall argue it in Committee. I think the noble Earl will find it is a red herring in the sense that it could in no sense be an open invitation for the proliferation of sawn-off shotguns. That is the point. In other words, this provision was put into the Bill to meet a very limited demand from the stag hunting community to have this recognised as a legitimate weapon for one very small purpose in one very small part of the country. In no sense could this do great national harm. In that sense, I think the point was a red herring.

Before I come to the major point, the only one that I want to deal with in detail, which is about the issue of the shotgun, may I say something about the Government case. Here I must restrain myself, but I am tempted after no less than 26 years in Parliament simply to say: do Governments never learn? Year in, year out, I have watched cold water poured on Private Members' Bills from Government Dispatch Boxes, only to find after some months of persuasion that Governments are actually taking them on and shepherding them through. Perhaps in some cases two or three years are needed before they finally realise the situation; but then, without even an apology, they come along, take the Bill, and proudly see it through. Do they never learn?

My noble friend said that this is a very good Bill, that the Government are all in favour of it but that they would love to emasculate it in Committee. I have heard that said about Private Members' Bills for a quarter of a century, year in, year out, and then seen the Government sooner or later capitulate on many of them. I wish that they would try to learn this much: that it is not the case that Private Members—after consultations as widely undertaken as this, over as many years as this, with so much crashing evidence—will come lightly to your Lordships' House to inflict legislation on it. They come only because the evidence is overwhelming. In this case the cruelty is blatant, and there is an obvious need for an expansion of control over the sale of venison—which is the point the noble Lord made—in order to stop the poaching.

Why could they not at least have recognised that this matter is now a public scandal on a scale that means some slight departures from present legislation, and come some of the way with us? It is my Badgers Bill of 1966 all over again. The Home Office case has had to be put by a Minister—notwithstanding his charm and his personal good will towards us all. It is the old business of the Home Office never learning until the very last moment that public opinion must be taken into account and that blatant cruelties must be remedied, even if that means departures from the accepted law of the moment. I shall be no more angry than that—perhaps that is enough.

I turn to the main point of argument—the shotgun versus the rifle. I was heartened by the fact that 12 out of 16 of your Lordships, who kindly spoke in this debate, wholeheartedly supported the Bill and the gradual suppression of the use of the shotgun on deer. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, will reflect that there is, so to speak, a three-quarters majority of speakers already in favour of doing something quite significant about this issue.

The noble Lord said that we must show that the farmers, whose case I understand, are showing irresponsibility—those were his words. With respect, I do not have to show anything of the sort. I do not have to prove that kind of case because it is not the kind of case that I am making. We very seldom in Legislatures have a clear-cut case where we are able quite easily to show that something needs to be done. Our job is to weigh up the balance of argument—the advantages and the disadvantages of a particular form of action through legislation. In this case we know that there are responsible farmers who are not using the shotgun improperly. We know, on the other side, that some farmers—perhaps a small minority—plus a large number of poachers use it and make it their own weapon. The balance of argument that we have to assess is whether the disadvantage for the respectable, reputable farmer is outweighed by the cruelly of the remainder and the need therefore for legislation. That is all I have to prove. I do not have to prove that farmers as a whole are irresponsible. I have to prove the balance of argument.

I want to make one or two suggestions. First, the noble Lord will know that many reputable farmers would never use a shotgun on deer. The noble Lord is not backed by the whole farming community in this matter. Many reputable farmers refuse to tolerate the shotgun being used on deer and have already taken to the rifle. The noble Lord must also know that reputable bodies, such as the Forestry Commission, would never tolerate this sort of thing, and are trying to set a public example. Is their experience, their guidance and wisdom not to be set in the balance against the other point of view? Does he not also realise that many farmers are already letting their stalking, a very valuable asset, and reaping a considerable income from that by putting it out to people who do it properly? I am not saying that those people should have a monopoly; I am saying that many farmers who do not want to use a shotgun are willing to put the work out. Deer control societies are spreading, and help enormously in particular areas.

There are two final points. I think we shall be able at Committee stage to suggest better evidence about the view of the police. I do not want to refer directly to discussions that took place some years ago, but I can say that in consultations with the police it became clear at that stage that they preferred the disabilities, the disadvantages, of a greater use of rifles to the continued indiscriminate killing by shotguns. Once again the balance of argument was being assessed, and in the case of the police I hope that we shall be able to prove even more definitely that, when faced with that challenge of the balance of argument, they will come down on the side of saying that the disadvantages of one outweigh the disadvantages of the other.

I end with one figure on this point. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is so worried about this issue knows the figures produced from checks made by the Deer Society. I do not know whether they were made by themselves or by people with whom they made full contact. The figure they have given me is that if you make a check on deer shot today by rifle and examine them—they have apparently done this with other people who have made these checks—you now find that 70 per cent. to 75 per cent. of the deer shot by rifle already contain in their bodies small shot. In other words, we know that indiscriminate peppering is going on. This is a figure which alarms me considerably, and must lead me to say in the end that if there are figures like that which can be proved, then the case for continuing with the shotgun is itself shot to smithereens. I hope that the noble Lord will check on matters like this.

I join with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in saying that we must reach agreement with the NFU. But we cannot reach agreement with them unless there is give on all sides. I hope he is not going to say that the NFU, in striking a balance of argument as I have been trying to illustrate, must have it all their own way. That is the point in the end. If they are willing to sit round a table and say, "We admit the cruelty involved and we are willing to find a way of reducing that cruelty through the use of the shotgun that will lead to its eventual outlawing", then I am sure we shall find that way. But they have to come over that first hurdle of agreeing that the level of cruelty involved is such that the need to outlaw must finally be conceded at some date. We can then make progress. I hope that the noble Lord will join with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in urging that there must be give on all sides if this agreement that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned is to be reached.


My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord realises to what my remarks were being directed. In this instance I fully supported him, and said so I think quite fulsomely, on the cruelty issue. My concern is that what is admittedly an unsatisfactory state of affairs should not be made into an even worse state of affairs by a legislative nightmare. That is what I was concerned about, not the actual aspect of the cruelty.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl. I hope that in the Committee stage we can reach agreement about this. I want to make it clear that the case on the other side is so strong that we cannot easily be expected to compromise, in view of all the expert and other opinion that wants to outlaw the shotgun as quickly and as reasonably as possible. It is in that situation that I hope we shall reach agreement.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, was kind enough to give a great deal of advice from Scotland and I welcomed it in the sense that it may well be the case—I am thinking aloud—that we need some form of advisory committee attached to the Bill which would then be comparable in some way to the Red Deer Commission. That might provide a clue as to how we could then outlaw the shotgun, because the body might advise on that as progress is made in that direction. I hope we can join with the noble Viscount in hoping that we could bring the Scottish and English close seasons into line. I join with one noble Lord who said that perhaps the Scots might have to move on this, not the English, as we might be more up to date on the matter.

Looking at the Bill as a whole, it forms a total pattern. It simply says that various methods must be outlawed; that, because of the scale of it, we must also control the sale of venison; and that we must, to give the police real powers of enforcement, make the entry on to land to poach deer an offence. Those are three cardinal issues to which we shall come time and again, in addition to the argument about shotguns. I hope we can stick to those and try to get them right in terms of the balance of advantage, and do what is reasonable for the farming community.

In that spirit, I assure noble Lords that, despite the hotness of some of the remarks about the Government's case, I shall in Committee be extremely reasonable. I repeat my suggestion that we might now allow a considerable period before Committee during which wide-ranging consultations can take place in order to get an agreed Bill. I hope the Government will join in some of those consultations, will not hold against me some of the hard words I have said, and will themselves be willing to show a little give in the consultations in order that we may obtain an agreed Bill.

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