§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Lord NORTHFIELD
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is of course virtually the same Bill as we debated last Session. Since that time it has benefited enormously from the assistance of Parliamentary' Counsel, who have totally recast it. When I see the effects of their work I am left in wonderment and admiration for their skill, because clearly what has emerged is now a much more workmanlike piece of legislation, and I hope that the product we have today will now 651 commend itself to the House as being worthy of a Second Reading and will indeed pass into law as quickly as possible.
It is almost impossible for me to express adequately my gratitude to many who have helped in this process. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, who was very courteous and almost encouraging, although he had a neutral brief on the last occasion on behalf of the Government. I am grateful to his colleague, Dr. Summerskill, the Minister in the Home Office, for allowing Parliamentary Counsel and making readily available to me the officials at the Home Office who have played such a great part in the redrafting. They have given enormous thought, care and understanding not only simply to the technical drafting of the Bill but also to the reasoning behind the Bill. I am bound to offer thanks with great pleasure to others who have been so helpful. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has helped by his criticisms last time and parts of the Bill bear the imprint of his experience and advice.
Outside, we have had many consultations with the National Farmers Union; with Mr. Butler, the Vice-President, who has been very courteous and helpful all through. In addition, Mr. John Hotchkis of the Deer Society has been untiring in his work to get this Bill into final form; and I should also like to say that General Brockbank, the Director of the British Field Sports Society, has been immensely helpful on a number of occasions and issues. That list of those who have contributed so much gives us a good start for hoping that we now have the Bill in an acceptable form.
Secondly, I should explain to your Lordships what happened to the Bill last Session. It was late in getting to the other place and a lot of consultation had to take place in the hope that it might go through, as it is called, "on the nod" at four o'clock on a Friday without any opposition of any kind. This meant that we had to clear all the obstacles in the way of further reservations that arose after consideration in your Lordships' House. Those obstacles were cleared and the consultations with the National Farmers Union and others were all finished, but our final chance of getting 652 the Bill through, which unfortunately did not arrive until July, was too late and indeed, ironically and tragically, the Bill was then opposed by only one honourable Member in the other House because she thought that the Bill was not tough enough. Half a loaf would have been a great deal to have achieved last Session, and I am sorry that the matter ended in that way. Anyway, here we are again, and I hope that this time, with the Government's help in redrafting, we have virtually an agreed Bill. I also hope that if we have some minor opposition again in the other place, the Government will listen sympathetically if I have to ask for some Government time in order that the Bill may finally complete its passage during this Session.
The need for this Bill is as great as ever. Deer poaching and illegal killing are now reaching alarming proportions; trespass is widespread; there is disregard for law and order; there are threats against gamekeepers and physical violence is perpetrated on them. Unscrupulous gangs are highly organised: they threaten reprisals, property is damaged, farm animals are killed, maimed and hustled. Such journals as The Field and The Shooting Times and the newspaper the Sunday People have recently published articles showing horrific cases of sheer barbarity; grisly methods used by villains delighting in cruelty on a massive and unprecedented scale. They run down deer with vehicles, pull them down with lurcher dogs, cut their throats and this they call sport. The traffic in illegally killed venison is then extensive. Poachers have persecuted some deer populations to such an extent that control and management is now impossible. One cannot wonder at this perhaps when one realises that until recently a red stag carcase was fetching about £140 and a large fallow buck about £80. Police are having to organise special patrols, but even then the convicted poachers are open in their defiance and publicity for themselves and have no expression of regret when they are punished.
Against all this we have only the Deer Act 1963 applying to England and Wales only. It was good in its time but it is now out of date and ineffective. Apart from Italy we have the weakest legislation on deer in Europe. I would go one stage further. In Northern Ireland there was 653 no legislation at all on deer, but in this Bill it is now included. I have to convey to your Lordships the apologies of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who last Session got us to bring in Northern Ireland. He is ill, but he has assured me that he would have liked to be here today to give support to the Bill as it is now drafted. Perhaps the extent of public support for this Bill can be gauged from a quotation from this week's Shooting Times:We on the Shooting Times believe that any further opposition to this Bill can only come from those who do not have the best interests of deer at heart .The breadth of support is not just in the printed word. The three police organisations—the Chief Constables, Superintendents, and the Police Federation—have signified their approval and support. The whole sporting world, including the British Field Sports Society, I understand, are now happy with the Bill. Scientific bodies are all behind it, as are the veterinary authorities. The environmental authorities are satisfied and the NFU—subject to two reservations with which I want to deal in the course of my speech—are now happy with the Bill.
I now therefore turn briefly to the content of the Bill. In the first place, I should like to make it clear, as I did last Session, that the Bill has nothing to do with deer farming. There is a committee on this set up by the Red Deer Commission in Scotland, and although the legislation must come in due time it is as yet too early to see what that legislation ought to be on the whole issue of deer farming. Therefore, we have to leave it out for the time being; that will be something that will come along later.
As I said, the drafting is a radical reconstruction, although the meaning is still the same as it was last Session. The difference I can illustrate by taking the exceptions. When an offence is created, the exceptions are now placed close to the definition of the offence instead of all being lumped together in a clause on exceptions. The special applications necessary for Northern Ireland, for example, are now scattered through the Bill rather than in one general clause about Northern Ireland. It is more workmanlike, as I said earlier.
The major change in the Bill is in Clause 4 taken together with Clause 18(2). 654 The change that is made is that the former licensing by the Nature Conservancy Council is now deleted. That was in the 1963 Act. This covers licensing by the NCC for the darting of deer and similar purposes. The Government made absolutely clear to your Lordships' House last Session that they opposed this because the NCC had no money for it, no particular expertise for it, and it was time it was changed. The change is to ensure that any such certification, if one might call it that, for these practices shall now be done in the presence of veterinary surgeons. This is the best safeguard we can think of, and I think this will be an adequate safeguard. Again I want to thank the Home Office, because it was they who helped us to reach agreement with the veterinary authorities and got their support for their inclusion in the Bill at this point.
My Lords, I turn to the particular details of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the close seasons and the nightly close times, and these are brought together in one clause. The exceptions, fully debated last Session, for a farmer protecting a crop from marauding deer are there carefully set out in the same form as last time. Although, perhaps, some of the wording has been tightened up, I can assure your Lordships that in no sense has the meaning of that Part been altered. The farmer is fully protected.
I come now to Clause 2 where we reach the major reservations; of the National Farmers Union. Clause 2 deals with prohibited firearms and ammunition and the power of the Minister later on to phase out or to ban various forms of firearms and ammunition. Here, the National Farmers Union have strongly pressed for two particular changes. I should like first of all to read to your Lordships part of a letter which Dr. Shirley Summerskill sent to me last February and which I am authorised to repeat today. This, I hope, will finally reassure the NFU. It concerns what happens after this Bill is passed and takes into account one of the things about which the National Farmers Union is concerned.
Dr. Summerskill writes—and I apologise for the length of the quotation:I can certainly give an assurance that the inter-departmental review, which it is proposed should be under taken when your Bill becomes law, 655 will include consultation with the National Farmers Union as well as with any other organisations having a major interest in the subject.We have not yet given detailed consideration to the precise scope of the review. What we had in mind was that it should examine the position of deer in England and Wales with particular reference to the aspects subject to legislative control—which by that time would be the control contained in your Bill. In view of the interest in the scope of this exercise, however, we propose that the proposed terms of reference should be circulated to the interested organisations for comment before they are finally agreed. This will give an opportunity to ensure that they are broad enough to cover any matter which a particular organisation thinks ought to be included".Here we come to the crucial paragraph interesting the National Farmers Union:I can also give an assurance that if your Bill has reached the Statute Book no attempt would be made to exercise the powers it confers on the Secretary of State to phase out the use of the shot gun in protection of crops etc., before the interdepartmental review had been completed and its conclusions were known".I hope that pledge to the National Farmers Union, that until a thorough review of Government policy about deer in general has been completed there will be no Government moves on phasing out the shot gun, satisfies the main worry of the NFU.
Secondly, the NFU want an amendment of subsection (5) of Clause 2. This is the subsection which deals with the power of the Minister to vary by order the prohibited firearms. The NFU want it to be amended to read that it shall be the Home Secretary acting with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries who shall make such orders; they shall make them jointly. I realise the force of this argument and the pressure for it and I give the assurance today that I shall move an Amendment in those terms at Committee stage. I hope we can show to the Government the force of feeling about this matter and get it finally settled in that form. I think it is a legitimate point by the National Farmers Union, although I would not, and they would not, I understand, want this joint activity by Ministers to apply elsewhere in the Bill. In any case, I would point to a later clause which means that all statutory orders have to involve widespread consultation before any of them come to be made.
Clause 3 deals with weapons and practices outlawed. Clause 4 I have partly dealt with; this concerns the moving and 656 darting of deer and veterinary supervision. Clause 5 deals with exceptions. I must say to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell that the Deer Society would be particularly grateful if they could be consulted on Clause 5 (5) (a) and (b), which give the Government certain powers in emergency situations, like rabies and so on, to do almost anything. They could set snares, set poison, do almost anything otherwise illegal in those emergency situations. I think it reasonable that they should be asked to consult the Deer Society before any such practices are applied in an emergency.
Clause 6 is new. This is based on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 which gave additional protection to farm animals. Deer are now being handled, darted, netted, drugged, loaded and unloaded in vehicles for transport all over the country and into foreign countries, in numbers which many knowledgeable people consider have reached quite unacceptable proportions. This new provision, together with the Transit of Animals Order 1973, should go some way towards enhancing the welfare of deer where there would be danger and where there would be protection by no other legislation. I cannot stress too strongly that deer are wild, not domesticated animals; they must not be regarded in the same light as farm stock. They are subject more than most animals to extremes of distress. If the 1968 Act was considered necessary to protect farm animals, it is crucially necessary to protect deer, the most sensitive and timid of Britain's wild animals. I am very glad to see the drafting of Clause 6 to achieve that end.
Clause 7 is the former Clause 4 which concerns the outlawing of poaching. I hope that we have got it right. We have had years of discussion about this and I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who has helped us to get it right.
Part II deals with the "Control of Sale and Purchase of Venison" and it is as in the original Bill. I hope that it will not be thought restrictive. It is easy to get a game dealer's licence for £4.75. They are not in short supply—they are not restricted. It only means that we shall have control over the disposal of venison as a further, and indeed absolutely indispensable, check on poaching. Part III 657 deals with "Miscellaneous and General." Clause 17 (1) deals with widespread consultations on any statutory orders. Part III, the definitions and the Schedules are all as in the last Bill.
I have spoken as briefly as possible in introducing the Bill. I said at the beginning that I thought that with the immense help of the Home Office and Parliamentary Counsel, to whom our debt is immense, we now have a workmanlike Bill. We still have an area of great need—an area of barbaric cruelty which it is time we stopped. I hope that the Bill is worthy of being put into law as quickly as possible. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.— (Lord Northfield.)
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Viscount THURSO
My Lords, I am pleased that I have been lucky in the draw and am the first person to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on his persistence in again bringing the Bill before your Lordships' House. I should also like to congratulate him on his flexibility in listening to the points which were made in the previous debates, both here and in the other place, and to the representations made to him by bodies such as the National Farmers Union. He knows that I have had experiences similar to those which he is going through. Therefore, he will know that I also am aware of the immense value of Parliamentary draftsmen in helping an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House to pull together a Bill, to make the intent of the Bill clearer and, indeed, to make the Bill hold water as a legal instrument with more certainty.
Therefore, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, great good fortune with the Bill. Our wishes are for the Bill to succeed and for it to go through both your Lordships' House and the other place. On the other hand, I hope that the noble Lord will continue to listen to the points that are made in the debate. They will be made, so far as I and my colleagues on these Benches are concerned, with the sole object of improving the Bill and of removing any possible anomalies that may arise between the operation of the Deer Acts in Scotland and in England.
There is one very important provision missing not only from this Bill but from 658 the promises which accompanied the Bill in the noble Lord's introductory speech, and that is any form of ongoing Deer Commission in England. I believe that any legislation concerned with the protection and welfare of deer in England will eventually require a Deer Commission. An inter-departmental review is not an ongoing commission. Therefore, I feel that at this stage we should put on record that ultimately a commission of some sort to deal with these matters in an ongoing way will be needed. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that that is so. I take the opportunity provided by this debate to make that point. I know the difficulties that would have arisen if there had been an attempt to insert provision for a commission into the Bill. Therefore, I appreciate why it does not appear in the Bill.
There are a number of improvements to the Bill as it now stands which those of us who participated in the previous debates readily and quickly recognise and which have been drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. There is still one feature of the Bill which I do not like. Indeed, I should be surprised if anybody really liked it and I cannot see why it has to be retained in the Bill. I am referring to the necessity—for so it appears—to make the farmer defending his crops guilty and. then to place upon him the responsibility to prove his innocence. The curious feature is that, as I read the Bill, the huntsman who, not with the car but with the horse, has chased the sensitive animal and pulled it down, not with a lurcher but with a pack of hounds, is allowed immediately to use a sawn-off shotgun—a type of weapon which it is illegal for anybody else in the country to possess or use for any purpose.
Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-FARD
My Lords, stag hunting takes place on Exmoor and the hounds are not allowed to pull down the deer. The huntsman has a sawn-off shotgun or some other weapon with which he shoots the deer at bay. The hounds do not pull down the deer: they are not allowed to do so. I want to make the point that the deer is shot dead.
§ Viscount THURSO
My Lords, that is not my point. My point is that there is 659 great sympathy shown for the man with the sawn-off shotgun who is merely pursuing his sport, whereas the farmer who is in fact protecting his livelihood is taken to court and there has to prove that he is an authorised person, that he has the right to use the weapon and so on. I believe that it would be only just that the farmer should be assumed to be innocent and that the onus should be upon the authorities to prove him guilty. That could quite simply be done by the deletion of a few words which would not in any way alter the strength, purpose or shape of the provisions. It would merely put the farmer into the position where he knew his rights and he did not have to prove that he had those rights.
Another reason why I think the Bill is still defective relates to the blanket way in which it chooses suitable weapons with which to pursue deer of widely differing sizes. At one end of the scale, we have red deer weighing 20 stone, which is the size they grow to in many parts of England. At the other end of the deer scale, we have the little muntjac which is no bigger than a hare and which weighs a few pounds—possibly not even a stone. Apparently both those species must be shot with weapons of the same muzzle energy. Clearly, this is not right, because if you were to use a weapon like a seven millimetre magnum on a muntjac and you hit it fair and square, the animal would disintegrate. Obviously, you cannot use the very heaviest calibre of weapon upon the smaller deer. In fact, from the point of view of safety, convenience and of preserving the venison of the smaller varieties of deer, it may very well be that smaller types of weapon should be allowed. Indeed, in Scotland for roe deer people frequently use a 2.2 magnum of some sort, which is perfectly adequate for the smaller types of deer. I think that this point may well be dealt with by the interdepartmental review, and would certainly need to be dealt with by any ongoing Deer Commission. However, it seems to me that it is a weakness in the Bill that the weapons cannot be chosen for different classes of deer and cannot be made more suitable for the purpose for which they are required.
The final point, on which I still have some criticism of this Bill, is in the choice of game dealers as the automatic venison 660 dealers. I suppose that at this stage I should declare my interest, in that I am a game dealer and a venison dealer as well as being a producer of the substance. But it seems to me that difficulties might conceivably arise across the Border where, on one side of the Border, game dealers will be licensed to deal in venison and, on the other side of the Border, venison dealers will be licensed to deal in venison. If one looked at the Bill more carefully and at the problem more carefully, I cannot help feeling that it might be possible to make the venison dealer from Scotland a valid operator in England without having to take out a further licence; likewise, perhaps the licensed English game dealer, if he is licensed to deal in venison, could operate in Scotland without having to take out a venison dealer's licence.
I am not sure of all the problems involved here, but I think that there are problems. I ask the noble Lord to look at this again because I think that he might find that to have a class of venison dealer would, in fact, be to the advantage of the English trade. I am sure that there will be some game dealers who do not wish to handle venison. This is certainly true in Scotland where not all game dealers handle venison; indeed, not all venison dealers handle game. Therefore, it might well be to the advantage both of the authorities who want to check on these things and of the trade across the Border if this matter could be looked into. Having mentioned those comparatively small disagreements with the Bill as it is now drafted, I repeat that we wish the Bill well and will, indeed, endeavour to help the noble Lord get it through at the second attempt and to make progress in the efforts to obtain proper legislation for deer of all species in England.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has very kindly allowed me to speak before him instead of after, as I have to get home. I must apologise to your Lordships if I have to leave before the end of the debate, but the reason is the same as usual: I have to get home. It is a curious coincidence that any debate for which I happen to put down my name always seems to be relegated to the end of the day. Perhaps there is some significance in that. If any noble Lord wishes to see a debate put in 661 that position, let him get in touch with me and I shall put down my name for it, and we shall see what happens and whether I am right.
However, I should like to say that I am very strongly in support of this Bill, and I think that the House owes a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for his persistence in carrying it through. It will be a great protection for several reasons. I should like to point out to any noble Lords who may have suspicions about this Bill that it is not merely a Bill to please the sentimental visitors to Richmond Park. It is much more than that. I spent a weekend with a cousin in Herefordshire in the summer and he complained about the frightful methods which poachers use upon the deer on his land. Apparently they use the most inhumane methods of slaughter. This Bill will at least ensure that there is a legal weapon to use against them. I believe that the clause on the sale of venison will do even better. Therefore, I wish the Bill well and I congratulate the noble Lord once again for having put it forward. I hope that it will receive a welcome from all your Lordships.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
My Lords, I have no intention of treating your Lordships to a repeat performance of last year's Deer Bill, for the simple reason that I see so many familiar faces; in particular, that of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, who, despite the fact that he seems to thrive on punishment—whether it be as chairman of a Quango or chairman of his committee on land ownership—has returned to do "Deer Bill battle". At the rate that he appears to enjoy such criticism, I am sure that he will soon qualify to be a farmer.
I know only too well that over the past few days your Lordships will have re-read the Hansard debate of last year's Deer Bill. I hope that I am correct in believing that every Member of your Lordships' House is as concerned as I am about the absolute right of the farmer to protect his crops. Certainly I found this view very forcefully expressed by all noble Lords when I read the debate on last year's Bill.
Therefore, it is following on from this point—the right of the farmer to protect his crops—that I wish to ask two questions 662 of the Government, which have already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. First, will the Government accept that deer—as I believe your Lordships accept and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, accepts—are an agricultural problem? As such, do the Government accept that the Minister of Agriculture should be the Minister responsible for orders under Clause 2(5) or—as the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, said—in conjunction with the Home Secretary?
Secondly, I want to ask the Government for the present position regarding the inter-departmental inquiries. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for reading his honourable friend's letter, which is of great help to us. I think that I am correct in assuming from that letter that the Government will not introduce any orders under Clause 2(5) until this inquiry has reported. Again, I should be grateful if the Government could tell me how much progress has been made by this inquiry since the letter written to the noble Lord by his honourable friend Dr. Shirley Summerskill. I believe the answers to these two questions, particularly the first, to be of vital importance to the working of the Bill. It is for that reason that I warned the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in advance, so that the Government would be able to give a considered and definite answer tonight.
As I have said, I do not wish to copy the BBC and put on a repeat performance. If I did, who knows but some of your Lordships might cast me in a leading role perhaps in "Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em"; but I must remind the Government that, although no doubt they blame the failure of the last Bill on me, I still put the onus as much, if not more, on them, for not, if I may say so, coming clean at the start, and then for introducing a major Amendment, if not a wrecking one, at Third Reading. This was a tactic which was foreseen by my noble friend Lord Mansfield very early in last year's debates, if you read Hansard of 21st April, but which, I fear, was not foreseen by many of your Lordships.
Last year I blamed the civil servants at the Home Office, for which I was quite correctly reprimanded. So I must now, as instructed then, put the responsibility fairly and squarely on, I feel sure, the 663 willing shoulders of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for telling us what the Government's views are on this Bill; for I see from reading last year's Hansard a stumbling block in getting the Government to accept that deer are an agricultural problem affecting farmers' crops. Hence my desire, before we start tabling Amendments, for an answer to my two questions relating to this problem.
§ 8.42 p.m.
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on producing this excellent Bill again. I am 100 per cent. in support of its principle, although I may be a little doubtful about some of its details. One of the areas about which I am slightly doubtful is Clause 1(7). I think that the noble Lord has been a little hard in asking that a defence of being an authorised person should be:any member of the occupier's household normally resident on the occupier's land, acting with the written authority of the occupier;".We get situations arising in the farming world—I have one close to me—where you have three brothers who work a farm. I should not like to say which one actually owns it unless I had looked at the deeds. Must the owner of a farm, on the passing of this Bill, instantly go and, for instance, give a written authority to his son, or to anybody who works on his place, in order to justify them in taking any action to kill a deer? Could we not simplify this matter rather than impose on farm owners the need to work out which of their family or employees has to have written authority to do these things?
I have a further small complaint. I think that on Second Reading last time I raised the subject of "an area or place". I still cannot see how you can define an area. Is a hunt entitled to pursue a deer from one place to another? When does it come out of its area or place into another place? Is it entitled to do this? If not, it leaves me rather uncertain as to what "area or place" means.
I have only two more small points to make. First, we come to the records of game dealers, which I raised on the last Bill. Are we to assume under this Bill that a licensed dealer in game has to keep 664 one set of records? I raised with the noble Lord on the last Bill the question of a licensed dealer who bought from another licensed dealer. I see that it is nicely laid out here. Is he entitled under Clause 12 to keep two sets of books, or must he keep only one set of books? The first would be for the deer which he shoots and brings in, and then he fills in the form set out in Schedule 3. Can he use the same records when he buys from another licensed dealer, using only columns 1, 5 and, I think, 6, saying "Date of purchase", without having to complete all the rest? Could this matter receive consideration, and something clearer dealing with a sub-purchaser of venison be put into it?
The only other thing I have to say is to ask whether the noble Lord is quite satisfied that the penalties in this Bill are adequate. It is a horrible thing that the poachers do. They cause a tremendous amount of pain and suffering to these animals. I have a feeling that these penalties are rather too small. Apart from that, I welcome this Bill, and congratulate the noble Lord on bringing it forward a second time.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord TRYON
My Lords, I too welcome this Bill and the noble Lord's persistence in bringing it back to us again. I tried to think of another word, as "persistence" has been used several times, but it is the best one in the circumstances. I was not able at the last moment to take part in the debate last year on this subject but I followed it most closely and was, I think, almost as disappointed as Lord Northfield when it failed. That said, I hope that the noble Lord will take any criticism that I have of the details as purely constructive. He has undoubtedly taken a great deal of advice from those who know a great deal about this, but where my opinion and experience differ I shall say so.
I think I have to declare an interest at this stage, although I hope it will be seen more as a qualification than anything more sinister. I own a small estate in the South of England where there are a number of deer now resident. I am a regular stalker of roe deer and all other sorts of deer and have been for a number of years. I am also a director of a leading firm of London gunmakers who make the 665 implements referred to in those clauses of this Bill.
The noble Lord said that the need for the Bill was as great as ever. I should have put it rather more strongly than that; the urgency has increased in the last year or so, in that, certainly in my experience, the population of deer, particularly roe deer, throughout southern England has greatly increased, and so have the depredations of the poachers. I keep a careful watch on the number of deer on my small piece of land and I would say that the numbers have more or less trebled in the the last couple of years, and that is the experience of a number of my friends throughout the south of England. Indeed, I believe the spread of roe deer continues inexorably throughout the country.
The problem with the Bill, if there is a problem, is that of steering a course between the highly laudable cause of protection and increased status for deer, which have been thoroughly underrated for years, and the pressure for control, particularly from farmers. Control is not easy throughout most of England, due to the pressure of population and the safety factor and I believe that, in part, the restrictions in the Bill are too onerous. The details of that will come out in Committee and I shall not go into the nitty gritty of the matter now. I shall give only two examples and I give them reluctantly because, while the main aim of the Bill is to make the shooting of deer in England more sporting, the restrictions are too onerous in two respects.
First, concerning the shooting of deer from vehicles, I appreciate that this has been banned in Africa and most civilised countries for many years, but occasions arise when, through lack of time—with the season nearly ending and too many deer in an area—it is, I am afraid to say, an unsporting but extremely effective method of control. Secondly, regarding the banning of light-intensifying infra-red equipment, the Bill provides for deer to be shot one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. Often at those times on a dark day it is extremely difficult to shoot them, given the state of the light, and I should have thought the use of modern infra-red or light-intensifying telescopes would reduce the likelihood of wounding deer and would help control rather than hinder it. I appreciate that the noble 666 Lord will say these are both weapons of the poacher, and I could not be more against the poacher, but they are also weapons for the proper control of deer and I hope he will think about that again.
I wish to deal briefly with the question of firearms and ammunition. I accept reluctantly that it is practical, if the Bill is to get through—and, as I say, I wish it well—that smooth-bore guns as restricted and defined in Clause 2(4) should be used for the smaller deer species, and the minimum shot size chosen, which is generally known as AAA—it has about 34 pellets to the ounce—is probably a good minimum. I should have preferred this to have been mentioned in the Bill to save people having to look it up in tables of shot sizes, but there may be legal reasons why it is not.
That said, I think this size of shot fired through a shot-gun is just adequate up to the size of fallow deer. This is a personal opinion, but it is probably effective at close range and in responsible hands. However, I am not convinced that it is adequate against red deer stags and I hope that when the commission considers this whole issue, the phasing out of shot-guns will start with the red deer. I should like to see it introduced into this Bill straight away so that red deer would be treated differently.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, spoke about the difference between a muntjac doe weighing a mere 15 pounds or so— one could virtually shoot it with a catapult, to be absurd—and a red deer stag weighing 300 pounds-plus. These are of course utterly different animals and I should therefore like Lord Northfield to consider eliminating the use of shot-guns other than those using single ball shot against red deer at any time.
§ Lord NORTHFIELD
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will look at the debate we had at great length on this issue the last time round. We did not find the solution then and we are not near to one yet. It is an issue to which I hope the inter-departmental inquiry or any other inquiry of that kind will gradually find the answer, but no answer is available yet.
§ Lord TRYON
I accept that, my Lords, and I was aware that this had been heavily debated, but it is something about which I 667 feel strongly and I am sorry if I have taken the time of the House on something that is already understood, but it is a serious point. I mentioned single ball ammunition and smooth bore shot-guns; it is not well known in this country that it is a better weapon than many people appreciate, and I have seen the results of tests with it.
I re-echo the criticism of poachers. In the part of the world from which I come, in the south of England, this is unquestionally an increasing problem, with lurcher dogs being the main weapon, if I may use that word, against deer. They frequently maul deer for several minutes before they are caught up with by their owner and it is a cruel and despicable situation that cannot be allowed to continue, and one which I hope the Bill will strongly discourage. If lurcher dogs are not used, then the problem is indiscriminate shooting by people with no time or inclination to follow up any wounded deer, and I have seen the results of these people's activities with my own eyes.
I am afraid we lag behind the civilised world in this field of deer conservation and control, and of course this is only a very modest measure. The other day while out in the country a deer tried to jump a fence near to where I was standing and broke its neck. A Continental gentleman standing beside me asked, "To whom must you go to report this?" I looked at him amazed and inquired, "Report it?" He replied, "We would have to report it immediately to the nearest deer authority" We are a very long way from that sort of thing here and I welcome the Bill as a modest step towards the proper recognition of the place of the deer in England.
§ 8.59 p.m.
Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-RARD
My Lords, having introduced the original Act of 1963 before which no deer in England and Wales were protected, I felt that I could not let the Second Reading of this Bill pass without saying a few words. Before speaking about the Bill, I wish to say that I completely disagreed with the noble Lord who has just sat down when he objected to banning infra-red telescopic sights and to shooting deer from mechanically propelled vehicles. Under the Bill it is allowed to shoot deer 668 in an enclosed deer park from a mechanically propelled vehicle, and I think that that is chiefly to take into account Richmond Park and other Royal parks; but I am all against allowing everyone to shoot deer from mechanically propelled vehicles, as poachers do.
I heartily approve of the Bill, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord North-field, on continuing the battle. However, no matter how good the Bill is—and it is good—it suffers from the weakness from which all such deer Bills suffer, including the Bill which I introduced. The definition of an authorised person who is allowed to shoot in close season is rather wide, though that is probably unavoidable. The definition of the land on which deer can be shot by an authorised person in the close season is also wide, because almost all the woodland in England is enclosed. I am not quite clear what is the definition of"pasture". Does "pasture" include rough grazing? So far as I am aware, the Bill does not say, "enclosed pasture"; it says merely, "pasture". That also is probably unavoidable. I heard my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley read out his brief from the NFU, and I do not want to quarrel with the NFU, but there is this weakness in Bills of this kind. I am certainly not blaming the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for that. As I have said, at the moment the weakness is unavoidable. We must also consider the effect if this weakness is combined with what is provided under Section 98 of the Agricultural Act 1947.
The present Bill has nothing to do with Scotland, but I should like to tell your Lordships of an instance there which, to a certain extent, is parallel with what we are considering. I know of a certain smallholding near to me in Scotland. We have a very good sergeant of police who is very hot on poachers, and whenever he catches a poacher, he says, "Well, it's not much good, sir, because he says that he had permission to shoot the deer on Mr. X's croft". This croft is only about ten or 12 acres, and in fact there would not be standing room for the number of deer which are claimed to have been shot on Mr. X's croft. Admittedly under the Bill a person who shoots deer in certain circumstances has to be able to satisfy the court; but with due respect to magistrates' courts, I must say that some magistrates do not always have the 669 necessary practical knowledge to give the right sentence. However, I must add that that is merely my opinion.
I wish to turn to the question of firearms. I suppose that at present it is too soon to introduce a Bill to provide what I should like to see in this regard. I should like to see a provision under which one was allowed only to use a shotgun when firing a slug or other single projectile. No matter how small the deer—whether a muntjac or a Chinese water deer—when using a shotgun, even with only 36 pellets to the cartridge, there is much more chance of wounding the deer, whereas with a single projectile, if one shoots and the range is right, the chances of wounding are very remote, provided of course you can shoot.
I wish to refer to a matter raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. It was a very fair point. Presumably he was referring to the Somerset Staghounds or the Quantock Staghounds. The question was: Why is the huntsman allowed to shoot the stag with a sawn-off shotgun? The reason is that when the hounds are baying a stag, the huntsman can go up very close to the stag. It is a very different matter from shooting deer that are not bayed by hounds. A farmer might fire at a deer with a shotgun from 50 or 60 yards with ordinary shot, and he would wound it. So it is a completely different question.
I now turn to Clause 7(3) which worries me. Clause 7(1) says:Subject to subsection (3) below, if any person enters any land without the consent of the owner or occupier or other lawful authority in search or pursuit of any deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it, he shall be guilty of an offence".Subsection (3) says:A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section by reason of anything done in the belief that he has lawful authority to do it or that he would have the consent of the owner or occupier of the land if the owner or occupier knew of his doing it and the circumstances of it".Does not that give people carte blanche?
Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-RARD
Does it not? I am sure that a clever barrister could defend even the most wily criminal who had come on to one's land and said, "Ah!, but if so-and-so 670 had known I was going to do it, it would have been quite all right". You might as well say that you can take somebody's car and then say, "If he had known I was going to take his car, it would have been quite all right". That subsection certainly worries me; but apart from that I do not really think I have any other criticism.
Of course, the Bill is very much like the one the noble Lord introduced previously; he has pointed out the differences. I thoroughly agree—and we had this in the previous Bill—with Clause 11 in Part II, "Control of Sale and Purchase of Venison". There is one thing with regard to Clause 15, "Forfeitures and disqualifications". I am rather worried when it comes to the question of dogs. What is the court going to do with all these dogs? It is not the fault of the dogs. What are they going to do with them? It is perfectly correct, no doubt, that a man should lose his dog if he is using it for poaching; but what is the court going to do with these dogs? Are they going to put them down?
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount will permit me to interrupt him. During the passage of the previous Bill I asked the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, if he would take out the provision concerning the destruction of dogs, and an undertaking was given by the National Canine Defence League that they would take into their care, retrain and rehome any dogs which were forfeited.
Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-RARD
My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that, and I thank my noble friend. It seemed to me to be rather unfair to the dog. I should like to end by saying that I wish this Bill a quick and successful passage through your Lordships' House. I also hope it will have the same passage through another place, and that the fate of the noble Lord's other Bill will not befall this one.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lovat had to go and catch his train to Inverness, and he asked me to extend his apologies to your Lordships. He would have liked to speak, and had his name on the list of speakers. Also, 671 my noble friend Lord Dulverton. As your Lordships will know, this is a matter very dear to his heart, and he was very sorry that he had to go to some formal dinner and was unable to be present; but he wished me to add to mine his congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for once more introducing this Bill and, if I may say so, for the extremely skilful way in which he appears to have steered this Bill and its many intricacies in such a way as to make it appear to be more or less an agreed Bill. Having heard the many divergent views of your Lordships here, let alone those of Members in another place or of people outside, to have done so is, I think, nothing short of genius.
I cannot emphasise too strongly the urgent need for a Bill of this sort to deal with the prevention of cruelty, which has been mentioned on a number of occasions already this evening. I was somewhat shocked when the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said, I think, that he took responsibility for having the previous Bill scuppered in another place. I sincerely hope that, if this is the case, he will not be taking similar action here.
§ Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I am sorry; I think he misheard me. I accepted responsibility for causing some trouble and delaying it in this place, not in another place.
§ Lord BURTON
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I thought that perhaps he had been responsible for prompting a Member to get up and object. I am glad to hear that that is not the case, because this is a matter of some urgency. There is a lot of cruelty taking place, and it is important that this Bill goes through.
What interested me was that those who were worried that the Bill was not giving enough protection to agriculture did not mention what I think is one of the most serious dangers to agriculture and to the control of deer; that is, the new explosion which has taken place in deer farming. If there was too much deer farming, if there were a great many more venison carcases coming on to the market, this could very well be a serious danger to wild 672 deer unless there was a marked improvement in the marketing of venison. At the moment, there is a limit to the amount of venison that can be sold. If you have too much put on the market then there will be a depression in the prices, and this will make the killing of deer far less economic and thereby reduce the number of deer which will be killed. This has already happened in Scotland. When the price of venison dropped (as the Red Deer Commission's reports will show) there was a very marked drop in the deer cull in Scotland. This could be a very serious matter for the wild deer because it might mean that they would not be properly culled. There is another complication here. Only on Monday I attended a meeting at Edinburgh called by the Government on venison marketing and was informed by the veterinary officer that the keeping of deer in confined conditions could cause veterinary problems, not least of which is TB. If you have a deer farm in the middle of your land and TB on it you can imagine the complications that might exist for domestic animals round about. Therefore, it is important that urgent steps are taken to have legislation on deer farming. But I should like to emphasise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that this is not the Bill for it. It is something that is needed urgently and, as he said, the Red Deer Commission are responsible for the setting up of an expert committee among whose members are Dr. Blackstow from the College of Agriculture in Aberdeen who was the original initiator of deer farming. These people, I hope, will not be too long in reaching agreement and I hope that legislation on deer farming will follow shortly afterwards.
There is another problem that I foresee in this; that is, the darting of animals to anaesthetise them for handling. The Nature Conservancy Council have not been at all happy about trying to authorise this and they are about to give up doing so. I am not happy with the wording in the Bill—that any veterinary officer may do almost as he wishes in this respect. I know that it has to be for the good of the deer—and I think that there is wording to that effect—but, even so, much as is the respect that I have for the veterinary profession, as is the case with most professions, I am afraid you will not find all to be of the best quality. I should like 673 to see a little more control in some way over the authorisation of veterinary officers to do this sort of work. I wonder whether the veterinary officers' own governing body could not issue authorisations where necessary. There is a great deal of very undesirable darting of animals going on at the moment; and this is something which badly needs stopping.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I think, mentioned the use of .270's on the muntjac. I agree that should you hit a muntjac with a .270 there will not be much left of it. But you do not have to use a .270, according to the Bill. The minimum size is the .236 or the 6mm. So that I am not certain that his arguments are really sound on this matter. The other point which I took up while the debate was progressing was that raised by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, and his objections to the proposal for granting permission to kill deer on the ground. Similar provisions already exist in Scotland for the killing of deer. What is more, instead of there being a number of people, as in this Bill, authorised to kill deer, in Scotland the tenant farmer, apart from himself, can authorise only one person at a time to kill rabbits. In fact, authorisation granted for deer—or, we hope, about to be granted—in England is very much more lenient than for killing rabbits in Scotland. I hope that the noble Lord will not be unduly worried about that particular clause.
I should like to say how much I appreciate the noble Lord's efforts and how much we require similar action in Scotland, although it may be harder to secure agreement there. But it is not so long since the police removed a live deer, with two of its legs broken, from the boot of a car in Scotland. The penalty which the villains received was derisory. This sort of thing must be tightened up and not only in England, for it is a United Kingdom matter. I have pleasure in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, the best of success with this Bill. I have no doubt that your Lordships will give it a fair wind here and I only hope that the Bill will not founder in another place.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to the noble 674 Lord, Lord Northfield, first for his pertinacity in continuing when many thought that the cause might well have been lost, at least for this Parliament. But it has not been los—at least not yet. Secondly, I must congratulate him on his flexibility. It is not easy if one comes new to a subject to realise what other people mean, especially if they do not express themselves too well. The noble Lord has overcome all that and succeeded in having a Bill drafted which I think meets all or nearly all the valid objections which were levelled against the last effort. Thirdly, we must pay tribute to his generosity; he has emerged smiling and affable as ever in spite of the frustrations which he must have undergone. He was generous enough to pay tribute to those who might be considered as opponents but who were in fact only trying to help.
The last Bill was deficient, as the noble Lord has been good enough to say. It was not only a matter of drafting. It would not have done what the sponsors intended it to do; it would have created a number of legal anomalies and unfairnesses and I might almost say nonsenses. It would not have protected deer in the way the noble Lord and his supporters wanted it to protect them. It would have caused resentment and disrespect for the law, which I for one was very worried about. That was my principal objection.
When the last Bill received its Second Reading, I ventured to express that opinion. I was all for what the noble Lord was trying to do but not in the form of the Bill which he presented to the House. For my temerity I was roundly railed at —if that is the word—by certain noble friends on these Benches. On this occasion I took the precaution of asking the "usual channels" to put me well down the list of speakers so that any criticism, except by way of interruption, can come only from noble Lords opposite. I have been quite crafty in doing that. So far as discussion of the Bill is concerned, I want to stick to principles which I believe to be right in a Bill such as this. I am not going to go into Committee points such as sizes of shot and matters like that, fascinating though they will no doubt be when we discuss them during the next stage of the Bill.
Any Bill like this—and one is immediately put in mind of the Badgers Bill 675 which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, so skilfully piloted through your Lordships' House some years ago—can only create the political environment which it seeks, the protection of deer and the discouragement of poaching, if it detracts from the rights of those who may occupy and work the land in question; and, indeed, those who may take their ordinary enjoyment on that land. One cannot affect one man's rights without affecting the rights of others, too. That is the drawback—if it may be so called— of all animal legislation which to some extent affects the rights of the landowner and occupier. If one is concerned for the constitutional part of this, as I always am when I see these Bills—perhaps it is my early training—one has to balance the value of the Bill to the creature which it is sought to protect against the diminution of rights about which I have already spoken.
When one looked at the last Bill, the balance was wrong; when one looks at this Bill, it is, in my opinion—and I speak for myself alone although, geographically, I occupy a place on the Front Bench— now about right. Various noble friends have expressed worry regarding certain parts of the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, did not like the idea of placing the burden of proving his innocence upon a farmer. With all respect, it is not a very heavy burden; he has only to satisfy a court on the balance of probabilities that the various matters set out in the clause—in fact there are two which bring this into question—relating to him are present. I do not believe that an honest farmer, trying to remove deer from his crops and killing them, is going to have very much difficulty in doing that. In the same way, I think my noble friend Lord Massereene showed a certain lack of confidence in the magistrates' courts of this country. I do not think the magistrates' courts which would hear this type of case would have too much difficulty in deciding whether or not a farmer or occupier of land had discharged the burden.
Similarly, my noble friend Lord de Clifford was worried over Clause 1(8), pointing out that you may get a number of brothers farming and occupying land and that the clause apparently does not take them into consideration. I think there 676 are two things one can say about that. It is quite easy under Clause l(8)(d) for the brother to take advantage of that section if he is an occupier in partnership with his brother. He will, in that position, have the same right to take or kill deer as his brother. I really do not see any difficulty in that.
Then the point was made that it would be "boring", to use a perhaps rather silly word, to have to give written permission or authority to employees to take deer. If one stops to think, it is not something which is going to take a long time; nor indeed need it be done more than once. I do not like being personal about these things, but on my property nobody is allowed to take anything without written permission. It protects them and it protects me; and it is very easy, when people are engaged, for someone to write out a piece of paper saying that so-and-so is entitled to do this or that or, perhaps more importantly, that so-and-so is not entitled to do this or that. Everybody then knows where he is.
The only matter which concerns me about this Bill is back on Clause 7, which is the clause that caused a great deal of trouble when the Bill was last before your Lordships' House. Some of your Lordships may recollect that one of the points I was most concerned about was the question of people pursuing wounded game across boundaries: Clause 7(3) is designed with just that situation in mind. There again, I do not believe that if people—poachers—are found with unlawfully-taken deer any court is going to pay much attention to them if, without any other facts or evidence to back them up, they say: "Oh, I thought the owner would not have minded". I do not think that is going to cause very much trouble to the courts or, indeed, to the people who try to prevent poaching.
There is one other matter I am a little concerned about. It is this: if one takes the position which I believe subsists in South-West England, where areas of land are bought up by anti-hunting organisations who thereupon stop stag hunts coming on to that land, and the hunt, in full pursuit of the stag, crosses the boundary, one is minded to ask what will be the effect on those taking part in the hunt. Quite obviously, the Master and the hunt servants could not claim the 677 benefit of subsection (3): they would be in peril if they went across that boundary. The innocent person following the field, who has no idea where he is but is merely trying to cling on to his horse and get a bit of fun, might, I suppose, be able to take advantage of subsection (3). But it is not very satisfactory, because that is really putting a burden both on that person and on the court to do justice. I can put it another way, and say that here is a case where, previously, only a civil remedy was available, in that the anti-blood sports society would have had to take out an injunction against a Master or any other individual they chose, and thereafter could prevent him from entering upon the land. As I read the clause, they will now be able to initiate a private prosecution and, if they can produce the evidence, have those people convicted in a criminal court.
It may be that your Lordships will say we must have this in order to produce the effect which we want in this Bill, and I think, speaking for myself, that this is something that one has to bear. But it is a matter which your Lordships and the sponsors of this Bill should know about, so that everybody will know what effect Clause 7 could have in the future.
I think that I have spoken quite long enough. All noble Lords will wish this Bill a speedy and fair passage through your Lordships' House, and indeed through the other place. I am sure that, if there are any Committee matters which will exercise us other than by way of discussion, they will be quickly dealt with. Once more, I should like to congratulate, and indeed thank, the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for having done what he has done so efficiently and pleasantly.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say that, in some respects, this has been quite a model debate in the sense that speakers have been very brief, they have been to the point, in every instance some useful contribution has been made, and in some cases matters have been raised which will obviously have to be looked at. Like others of your Lordships, I have a very clear and distinct recollection of passing this way before, and I take no exception whatsoever to the forthright manner of the 678 noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley' as he deals with me from time to time. This is perhaps how it should be.
I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I preface my brief speech with a tribute, like others of your Lordships, to my noble friend Lord Northfield, and an expression of my own personal admiration for his persistence and single-mindedness, which has demonstrated very clearly his refusal to be baulked by the setbacks which have dogged his efforts to get a Deer Bill on the Statute Book. As my noble friend Lord Northfield has explained, the Bill before your Lordships' House today is a revised and improved version of the Bill he brought in in February of last year which, having passed all the stages in your Lordships' House., failed to make the proper progress in another place. It says much for my noble friend's tenacity, although some of us, particularly those who claim to be his friends, might prefer to use the word "obduracy" On the other hand, it might even be said that the Government were so helpful, because they were in fear of him or they loved him—I am not sure which. But he invites your Lordships to tread again the well-worn paths which we have traversed before and, like your Lordships, I commend his stout-heartedness.
My noble friend has, with his customary clarity, explained the background to the Bill and there is no point in my taking up time trying to cross the t's and dot the i's. But I should like to comment on some features of the Bill which distinguish it from its predecessor, and which are evidence of the continuing discussions— I think that this is important—which took place right up to the introduction of the Bill last week. There has been a tremendous amount of thought, attention and care given to it. First, it makes illegal a much wider range of articles for use against deer than either the present law, the Deer Act 1963, or the 1977 Bill. Firearms and ammunition apart, there is a formidable list of objectionable articles set out in Clause 3.
May I single out for your Lordships' attention a single provision— Clause 3(1)(c)—which bans the use of any missile "for the purpose of taking, killing or injuring any deer"; and "any missile" the Government understand to mean "any missile". Therefore, throwing sticks and 679 stones at a deer to take, kill or injure it is out, unless—and I repeat "unless", for it is important—the intention to kill is an act of mercy or is in self-defence. To some of your Lordships this may seem to be rather like over-egging the pudding, but the Promoters of the Bill are anxious to make this provision as comprehensive as possible so as to cover such vicious articles as catapaults, slingshots, boomerangs, throwing sticks and the bolas.
In the second place, your Lordships may have noticed that the licensing functions exercised by the Nature Conservancy Council under the 1963 Act have disappeared from this Bill. Those functions, which were designed to ensure the proper treatment of deer which were captured and often tranquilised by dart gun and then moved from one area to another, were concerned with the humane treatment of deer and not with questions of conservation, which is the prime concern of the Nature Conservancy Council. The sponsor agreed with the Home Office and with the Department of the Environment that the aim of these provisions could be achieved much more effectively, without involving any Government Department or agency, by simply providing that the taking of deer in such circumstances should be done by, or in the presence of and under the direction of, a veterinary surgeon or practitioner. This is the purpose of Clause 3(2) and (3).
Clause 6 of the Bill is quite new and is modelled on a similar provision in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. I think my noble friend Lord Northfield will agree with me if I describe it as the key to the thinking behind the Bill; namely, that unnecessary pain or distress to deer in circumstances where man has direct charge of them is to be condemned. I should explain to your Lordships that the provisions which are necessary to apply the Bill to Northern Ireland have been allocated to the appropriate part of the Bill rather than located in a somewhat perplexing mass at the end, as they were on the last occasion. In this regard, I ought to mention that a consequential provision so far as Clause 9 is concerned, to take account of the position in Northern Ireland, may be needed at the Committee stage. My noble friend Lord Northfield also drew attention to that fact.
680 Your Lordships will recall that when we considered the noble Lord's Bill on the last occasion I gave an undertaking on behalf of the Government that should the Bill reach the Statute Book an interdepartmental review would be initiated on the subject of deer. The precise scope of the review has not been considered in detail. However, we had it in mind that the review would examine the position of deer in England and Wales, with particular reference to the aspects subject to legislative control, which by that time would be the control contained in the Bill now under consideration. I am happy to be able to repeat that undertaking in respect of the present Bill, with the addition of Northern Ireland to the scope of the review.
I can also assure my noble friend, noble Lords and others who may have an interest in the review that the National Farmers Union, as well as any other organisation with a major interest in the subject, will be fully consulted. I know that my noble friend is particularly anxious that the National Farmers Union should be consulted before any order is made under Clause 2(5) of the Bill; that is to say, an order dealing with the firearms which may be used by farmers against deer in protecting their crops. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the provision in Clause 17(1) which expressly commits Ministers to consultation with such bodies as are likely to be affected by, or interested in, any such order. This was a matter put to me, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. In short, no attempt would be made to exercise the powers that the Bill gives to Ministers to phase out the use of the shotgun in protection of crops, et cetera before an inter-departmental review, to which I have already referred, had been completed and its conclusions were known.
Your Lordships may recall that during the Second Reading debate of what one might call the "Mark I" Bill I drew attention to features which we hoped to persuade the sponsor to remove or amend. By the time the Bill left your Lordships' House and following a series of meetings between Mr. Hotchkis of the British Deer Society and officials of the Home Office in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food it had been remodelled to remove the vast majority of the objections made by the
681 Government and I understand, in addition, many of those voiced separately to the noble Lord by those interests likely to be affected by the Bill, namely the farming and the hunting lobbies.
We now have a Deer Bill "Mark II" which has had the benefit of the attention of Parliamentary Counsel—though this, I hasten to add, because I want to make it perfectly clear, in no way makes the result a Government Bill. It is still a Private Member's Bill. The Government's view is that the "Mark II" version is a great improvement on "Mark I", and on behalf of the Government I would say that we applaud the spirit behind the Bill and hope that your Lordships will give it a fair wind. I can promise the House that, although we shall examine carefully any Amendments which may be tabled, and we may find it necessary to object to some —that is quite likely—we shall not seek to put obstacles in the way of the Bill's progress. We believe that the Bill will go far towards achieving its aim of reducing the amount of cruelty inflicted on wild deer.
During the discussion we have had tonight just two or three points have arisen. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, asked whether we were prepared to consult the Deer Society. I cannot give a very definite reply to that, except to say that the provisions in Clause 5(5) relate to emergencies and I doubt whether it would be possible, without giving it very careful consideration, to give the undertaking that he needs. However, I will give your Lordships this undertaking; I will arrange for the request that my noble friend has made to be looked at much more closely before Committee stage and I will let him know the outcome in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, raised two matters: one the inter-departmental review which I think I have been perfectly frank about and the other one related to the order-making powers. The relevant provision of those in Clause 1 (2) relating to species and close seasons; in Clause 2 (2) relating to prohibited firearms and ammunition and Clause 2 (5) about weapons permitted in defence of crops and then Clause 12 (2) regarding game dealers' records, relate to species, close seasons, prohibited weapons and already have a counterpart, as he will know, in the 1963 Act.
682 I do not think the Government themselves would have wished to propose change in the provisions of that Act which give power to make and vary orders to the Secretary of State. But let me say this in answer to the question that he puts. There may be a case for looking more carefully at the new order-making provisions about weapons permitted in defence of crops, which may be the particular point which the noble Lord has in mind. But no doubt at the appropriate time the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, whose Bill it is, will perhaps also want to consider this matter and we may hear more about it at Committee stage. Meanwhile, the Government will also look at the matter. I can only say in reply to the last question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, that the Government recognise that deer can be and are in some respects a very serious problem to farmers, but I do not think I ought to go further than that tonight.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Lord NORTHFIELD
My Lords, at this time of night I would be trespassing on the tolerance of the House if I were to reply in detail. I have noted 17 points raised in the debate, and I will do my best at Committee stage to deal with them. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not try to do so at this hour. If I may say so, they were all valid points that I should like to look at very carefully indeed. Some of them have been answered for me—and I am very grateful—by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, from the Opposition Front Bench. I think he will have to become co-sponsor of this Bill if it goes on like this. He has been extremely helpful, and he did, I hope, set at rest some of the fears expressed opposite about particular details. I was very heartened by his choice of words when he said that he thought that the balance of interference with rights in order to protect this particular animal is now about right. I hope we can approach the Committee stage with that sort of feeling, that this is what we are trying to do. Some impositions on owners and occupiers and farmer will be there, but we are trying to keep them to the minimum in the hope that we are getting the balance right.
Secondly, I should like to say that a number of the Committee points that 683 have been raised will arise when this proposed inter-departmental inquiry takes place. For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made the point about there being a Deer Commission for England, and this is precisely the sort of thing an inter-departmental inquiry will need to look at. I think it will also look at the point, raised by the noble Viscount and by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, about variations in sizes of shot to be allowed. I think it is early to try to do this in one Bill, and a good inquiry will, I hope, bring this out and clear it up and enable the Minister most effectively, and with due regard to the rights of farmers and so on, to exercise the powers in the Bill.
I have one other remark to make before I sit down; that is, to thank my noble friend, Lord Wells-Pestell, for his great generosity and for the very helpful words that he has expressed in the course of commenting on the Bill on behalf of the Government. The fact is—and I know he will allow me to say so—that I have had such a lot of help from the Government that I am immensely in his debt. I hope that his final words, that he hopes this Bill will have a fair wind, will be noted in all parts of the House, and indeed in the other place as well. I am afraid that is where we have our fears; namely, that it will be elsewhere that the Bill might be held up. I hope he has done one other thing, besides being so generous and helpful. I hope he has finally helped 684 the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in regard to the points that concern farmers. Two specific things that the National Farmers Union have asked for have been repeated by me, and now by my noble friend on behalf of the Government. I think that during the Committee stage we must convince the Government finally on the second point; that is, the joint exercise of powers in relation to prohibited weapons—the joint exercise by two Ministers instead of one. I would be trespassing if I went much further tonight. I shall give an absolute undertaking to look at all of these points before the Committee stage.
A Private Member of your Lordships' House, introducing a Bill of this complexity is at an enormous disadvantage. He does not have civil servants passing notes from the Box to help him deal with all the difficult technical points raised during the debate. Therefore, a lame duck like me has to say, "Yes, I have heard them all and I am puzzled by some of the points which have been thrown at me. I shall do my best, as I have done during the history of the Bill, to try to meet all those points one by one and I hope that I shall do so in a spirit of conciliation." I express my thanks to your Lordships and especially to those who have taken part in tonight's debate. I hope that we can now give the Bill a Second Reading and wing it on its way to enactment.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.