HL Deb 08 February 1979 vol 398 cc939-59

8.45 p.m.

Report of Amendments received.

Clause 1 [Close seasons and nightly close times]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 29, leave out from ("if") to end of line 40 and insert—

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1, and it would be for the convenience of the House if we also discuss Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 14. If those Amendments, as a group, are acceptable to the House, I shall not move Amendments Nos. 6 to 10 inclusive. During the Committee stage the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, raised a number of matters and on three issues I offered to meet him before this stage of the Bill. I would begin by thanking the noble Viscount for his courtesy and the helpful spirit in which he met me. I think that on most matters—perhaps all except one—we have now reached agreement, and Amendment No. 1, with which I should now like to deal, is the first fruits of that agreement.

During the Committee stage the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, objected, first, in principle to the use of the words: if he satisfies the court before which he is charged which appear in Clause 1(7); and similarly to those words which appear in Clause 2(3). Secondly, he objected to the use of those words, without their also being used in Clause 2(4). So he asked for the Bill to be made in some way consistent. Amendment No. 1, if taken particularly with Amendment No. 4—Amendment No. 5 being a drafting Amendment and Amendment No. 14 a consequential Amendment—does, in fact, make for the consistency for which the noble Viscount asked. In effect, to put it as briefly as possible, we are now removing the words that offended the noble Viscount so that they do not appear in Clause 1 or Clause 2 and therefore they are now fully consistent with the words in Clause 2(4). I see that the noble Viscount is nodding his head, and although this matter is very technical I think that I have carried him with me.

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for pointing out this possible inconsistency and I hope that I have fully met him by moving these Amendments. However, I have one reservation which is most important. The point about removing those words—and I must make this clear to the House—is that their removal does not, in fact, affect the impact of the Bill. The subsections about which we are talking create, in effect, statutory defences or exemptions as regards the offences that are being described at those points in the Bill. But if we remove the words about "satisfying the court", it will, under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, nevertheless remain the case that in the end it will be before a court that the matter must be settled and that in the court it will be for the defence to prove the matter. It is the defence who have to satisfy the court about the exemption and the statutory defence. Therefore, to take the words out will show consistency in the Bill but will not, in fact, alter its impact. In the end it will be in the courts that the matter will have to be tried and in which the defence will have to prove that the exemption has been rightly earned.

That leads me to my final point. The second reservation which I have about the way in which I am now proceeding in order to meet the noble Lord is that it could be taken as slightly to discourage the police from going to court when they have prima facie evidence of an offence. it could be thought to be slightly discouraging the police in that respect by omitting these words. I am sure that police constables are well aware of the 1952 Act, in the way that I have just described. However, it would be very helpful if my noble friend on the Front Bench felt able to confirm what I have said, that taking these words out will not, in fact, alter the need of the defence to prove these matters in court and should not in any sense discourage the police from taking action when there is prima facie evidence of the defence described in these parts of the Bill. With those words, I am happy to move Amendment No. 1 and I trust that I have met the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in so doing.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, not only for taking on board this suggestion, which I made at an earlier stage in debate on the Bill, but also for his extremely helpful and courteous manner and attitude which culminated in delaying this stage of discussion on the Bill so as to give us both time to discuss these matters. I know that he had reservations over this and I am sensitive of the efforts he went to in order to meet me, and am extremely grateful. In fact, he has met all my objections on this. In spite of the reservations to which he referred, I can have no objection to the due process of law; I can have no objection whatever to people having to rely upon the statutory defence, if that is how the matter is constructed.

I do not believe that the way in which the Bill is drafted will in any way prevent the police from pursuing a prosecution if they believe that the law had been broken. However, I believe that as it is now stated, it does just guard against the possibility of harassment of people pursuing their legitimate business and protecting their legitimate rights. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. I certainly support all the Amendments to which he referred; I shall support him on the other Amendments as well as upon Amendment No. 1.

Clause 2 [Prohibited firearms and ammunition]:

8.55 p.m.

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 16, after ("order") insert ("either generally or in relation to any species and description of deer specified in the order").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, noble Lords will remember that during other stages of debate upon this Bill the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, held out the prospect of an interdepartmental review to look into a number of aspects concerning the control and poaching of deer, and the methods of taking or killing deer. We understand that this interdepartmental review is, indeed, a firm promise. It is more than just a nice idea; it is, indeed, a promise given not so much by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, himself, as by the Government when they gave support to the Bill which, of course, is the noble Lord's brainchild.

This interdepartmental review is absolutely vital to the acceptance of the Bill as it is now drafted. It is absolutely vital to my acceptance of the Bill and it is vital to the acceptance of the Bill by the farming community. Indeed, anyone who wishes the intentions of the Bill well would I am sure like it to be guaranteed that this review will take place and might, indeed, blossom into something a little wider than simply a one-off review; that it might blossom into my ideal of having some sort of a deer commission to deal with these matters in the future.

Therefore, it is extremely important that in agreeing to the Bill, in passing it through your Lordships' House and wishing it on its way through Parliament to another place, we should leave it so that when this interdepartmental review is set up, it will be able to carry out its recommendations, or that the Ministers responsible are able to put into effect the suggestions which arise from the deliberations of the interdepartmental review. I honestly believe that in one area—that of weaponry and particularly the area concerned with farmers and the kind of weapons which may be used for the control of the deer population—I have exposed a slight weakness in the Bill as originally drafted.

The Amendment proposes the following insertion in page 3, line 16: after ("order") insert ("either generally or in relation to any species and description of deer specified in the order")". Together with the later Amendment, No. 13—which is part of the same thinking—it is designed to enable the Minister responsible to implement any advice which the interdepartmental review may give him on these matters.

I genuinely believe that without these Amendments the Minister would not be able effectively to implement all the recommendations which he might receive. Even if it is thought that he might be able to implement some of them, it is a pity to cast doubt upon the ability of the interdepartmental review to be effective. Therefore, I recommend this Amendment to your Lordships and also Amendment No. 13, which is a similar Amendment. I beg to move.


My Lords, I have a reservation about this Amendment, but at this late hour I do not think I need describe it. I shall talk to the noble Viscount about it afterwards. I do not think that my reservation does any great harm: I shall simply say that I am happy to accept the Amendment.

9 p.m.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 3: Page 3, line 28, leave out ("shot commonly known as") and insert ("to say size").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 3 as set out on the Marshalled List. This is a drafting Amendment. I am advised that the words there amount to a more felicitous way of expressing what I had intended. I beg to move.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 3, line 29, leave out from ("if") to end of line 38 and insert— ("(i) he is an authorised person; and (ii) he has reasonable grounds for believing that deer of the same species are causing, or have caused, damage to crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property on that land; and (iii) it is likely that further damage will be so caused and any such damage is likely to be serious; and (iv) his action is necessary for the purpose of preventing any such damage;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this Amendment with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 5: Page 4, line 2, leave out from ("the") to ("any") in line 3 and insert ("use as a slaughtering instrument, for the purpose of killing any deer, of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, once again I have already spoken to this Amendment with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

(Amendments Nos. 6 to 10 not moved.)

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 11: Page 4, line 9, at end insert ("(that is to say size AAA or any larger size)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is again a more felicitous way of expressing what was inserted in the Bill at Committee stage.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 12: Page 4, line 10, leave out ("Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food") and insert ("agriculture Minister").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with Amendment No. 12, Amendments Nos. 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. At the Committee stage, and with the helpful support of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, we inserted in the Bill a power for the Minister of Agriculture to share power with the Home Secretary over the phasing out of weapons. We were warned at that time that of course the Minister of Agriculture's remit does not cover Wales and Northern Ireland. In order to make provision for that fact we now have to alter the wording to substitute the words "agriculture Minister" for the words "Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food", and then insert, particularly in Amendment No. 20, a definition of the words "agriculture Minister" so that it means in respect of England the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in relation to Wales the Secretary of State for Wales, and in relation to Northern Ireland the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland. Although it is rather complicated, in effect this is purely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 13: Page 4, line 12, after ("species") insert ("and description").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this Amendment. I beg to move.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 14: Page 4, leave out lines 16 and 17 and insert ("conditions which must be satisfied").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is really consequential on Amendment No. 1, and I spoke to it at that time. I beg to move.

Clause 4 [Removal etc. of live deer]:

9.5 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 15: Page 5, line 22, leave out ("from one area or place to another").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Governments frequently come in for a great deal of criticism. There was some a short while ago in your Lordships' House about the amount of unnecessary words that one finds in the various statutes, and so on. There is nothing in this Amendment other than to take out words which, in the view of Parliamentary draftsmen and, if I may say so, the Government too, are quite unnecessary. As drafted the amended Bill reads: takes and carries away any live deer from one area or place to another; What we are saying is that it is difficult to take something away without taking it away from one area or place to another. If your Lordships agree with me, and I am sure you do, I should like to move Amendment No. 15 so that we leave out "from one area or place to another". I beg to move.

Clause 17 [Orders]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 16: Page 13, line 1, at end insert ("or, as the case may be, the Minister and the agriculture Minister acting jointly").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is again an Amendment to which I spoke when I spoke about Amendment No. 12. I beg to move.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 17: Page 13, line 2, after ("him") insert ("or them").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendments Nos. 18 and 19:

Page 13, line 4, leave out ("of the Minister").

Page 13, line 9, leave out ("of the Minister").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Clause 18 [Interpretation]:

Lord NORTHFIELD moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 13, line 17, at end insert— (" "the agriculture Minister" means—

  1. (a) in relation to England, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food;
  2. (b) in relation to Wales, the Secretary of State for Wales; and
  3. (c) in relation to Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland;")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

Schedule 2 [Prohibited firearms and ammunition]:

9.8 p.m.

Viscount THURSO moved Amendment No. 21: Page 15, line 46, at end insert—


10. In their application to any Muntjac deer or Chinese Water deer—

  1. (a) paragraph 1 above shall have effect as if there were added at the end the words "of less gauge than 12 bore"; and
  2. (b) paragraph 7 above shall have effect as if there were added at the end the words "other than a cartridge purporting to contain shot none of which is less than 164 inches (4.09 millimetres) in diameter (that is to say size BB or any larger size)".")

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I fear I cannot be quite so expeditious as we have been up to now, because this is the moment at which, in Committee, I began to give away rather more than I meant to because of the lateness of the hour. This Amendment is slightly different in form and wording from a similar Amendment which, with permission, I withdrew in Committee, but the change is due solely to some helpful drafting advice I received in the meantime. My intention and that of the Amendment remain the same.

Let us go back to the beginning and ask ourselves what it is that the Bill is intended to do. First, it is intended to outlaw certain cruel or undesirable methods of killing or taking deer, and, secondly, it is designed to define the rights of certain people to take deer in specified circumstances and to strengthen those rights by making it an offence by someone not having them to kill or take deer in whatever circumstances they may try to do so. With those intentions I am in broad agreement. But there is a third objective which should form one of the Bill's intentions and which, though it may not form one of the Bill's objectives in the form in which the Bill is now before your Lordships, nevertheless, in my view, must not be made more difficult to achieve; that is, the proper management of deer as a native wild life species and as a food and leisure resource.

It is no good my moaning on about the Bill's deficiencies in that respect. I have made the point and, in fairness, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, accepts my contention in this matter but pleads pressure of time and offers me the sop of an interdepartmental review. As one whose family motto is J'aime le Meilleur, I find the sop unsatisfying, but practical politics make me tighten my belt and accept it as better than nothing. I know I am not going to get a Deer Commission out of the Bill, but two blacks do not make a white; people will still have to manage and control deer populations. It will be more difficult to do so without the help and advice of a Deer Commission, but the job will nevertheless have to be done.

When I say "manage and control" I do not just mean stop deer marauding on farm crops; I mean cull populations so as to keep them in a stable and healthy state. What I am talking about is what will have to be done constantly every year in order to prevent the farmer from being forced, as a last resort, to rush out with his shot gun so as to cut. down, if possible, an unacceptable and recurring damage to his livelihood. I am sure Lord Northfield will agree that one of the factors which makes the Bill important is the steady growth of the deer population of England and Wales and the steady spread of deer populations out of their traditional territories; and, one might add to that, a steady spread of non-native species escaped from deer parks.

The end result of such growth and spread is marauding pressure on to farmland. The marauding pressure will intensify as deer habitats fill up as a result of this expanding national herd. This means that more and more people will become "authorised persons" within the meaning of the Bill. As a result, more and more firearm certificates will have to be issued to more and more persons, not only with just cause to possess them but with real need to possess them to discharge their public duty, and therefore more and more high-powered rifles will be firing off in the fields and coppices of rural England and Wales with every-increasing danger to the general public.

We must remember that the minimum calibre that will be allowed to be used against any species of deer if the Bill is passed as it now stands is six millimetres. If such a weapon is to be used in butts for target practice, the butts will require to be carefully surveyed and appropriate permission will have to be sought. But used against deer, the angle and line of fire will always be different and often will be chosen in haste and in seconds by a single person who is not necessarily one endowed either with specialised knowledge or experience. Such a weapon as the Bill specifies, if used in properly surveyed and authorised butts, would be fired towards a butt with a safety area of at least a mile behind it, protected by red flags and backed up by a code of safety practice. Fired in a field, no one will know what safety area lies behind the target, and it will seldom be possible even to guess.

In my view, the Bill as it stands constitutes a very definite danger to the public. This would not be so—at any rate, not to anything like the same extent—if the shotgun were still allowed as a weapon for at least some kinds of deer. The argument against the shotgun is that to allow its continued use might be cruel. This I do not necessarily believe. Given the right loads and ranges, I consider the shotgun equal in effectiveness, if not more effective than the smaller calibres of rifle allowed by the Bill. Indeed, I consider the chance of inflicting a nasty non-lethal wound on some of the smaller kinds of deer to be more likely with a rifle that than with a shotgun.

I have tried to explain this to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, by drawing pictures for him. Although I think he liked my drawings, I do not think that he liked my argument. There is no opportunity here in your Lordships' House to draw pictures, and I have to rely upon verbal imagery to try to persuade your Lordships of the strength of my case. I will therefore not try to put across its technical merits in detail to your Lord-ships, but rather I will put it to you in the following way. The shotgun is allowed at this moment, and any load within it is legal, and any bore is legal. It follows therefore that my Amendment, by specifying BB fired from a 12-bore, goes quite a long way along Lord Northfield's road.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and I agree that an interdepartmental review of weaponry is essential, and it will be necessary to make the weaponry part of the law more sophisticated. I am prepared to believe that it may be necessary to increase the calibre of minimum weapon for the larger species of deer, because personally I consider that the the 6 millimetre is too small for red deer at some of the ranges at which one would wish to use it. To go the whole way with the Bill, and to ban the shotgun altogether, would create very definite dangers to public safety and to the lives of innocent bystanders. This step should not be taken therefore until after the interdepartmental review, particularly in the case of the smaller species of deer. In short, I am suggesting a compromise with public safety in mind, and I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, should be content with the same assurance that he gives me, which is that the interdepartmental review should be wiser than us both. I beg to move.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, it always seems to me that it is the last hurdle that is the most difficult to clear, and I regret to tell the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that I agree almost one hundred per cent. with the noble Viscount regarding this Amendment. I know that it is very late not only in the evening, but also in terms of the stage of the Bill, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, will see the validity of the argument. I think that it is completely sound.

I wish to make one or two points about these two particular species. First, they are exotic. I do not like exotic animals in principle, and I believe that many farmers would agree with me on this. Secondly, they really are pests, and they are small pests, too. They are little bigger than a hare, and they breed not like ordinary deer, but, I believe, two or three times a year. They do not seem to mind man, which is another aspect which is important from the safety point of view. They breed very close to man. They breed very close to me, and I farm in Oxford, very close to a large city. They also breed in Surrey. Hence, I would support the noble Viscount entirely in this matter of the question of safety.

Now, when it comes to killing them—and I admitted to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in the corridor that, I regret to say, I shot one of these perfectly easily with a size 6 shot—I do not think it is right to shoot them with a rifle. It is perfectly easy to shoot them with a shotgun. I would make one further point about this. I was talking to my—I was going to say my head forester, but that would be totally untrue; I was talking to the Forestry Commission officer who came to advise me over amenity planting the other day, and he explained to me that the great problem he had with muntjac and Chinese water deer, most of which had escaped from some noble Duke's land not very far away from me, was that they breed at a great rate. If they do increase at this rate, the time to control them is when people go out shooting. I should hate to see people using a rifle in a pheasant shoot, but, on the other hand, it is very easy to shoot these beasts if they increase in number to the extent that this man was trying to tell me they might.

I am not advocating the size 6 shot for these beasts, but what I am saying is that they could be a menace, and this interdepartmental committee should have the power to say, "No; these must be shot, or may be shot, with a shotgun because they are a pest, they are a nuisance, they kill our trees". I hope the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, will be able to accept this particular Amendment. I feel very strongly about it, and I should hate to see his Bill have a hiccup at this stage, because even I, who was very much opposed to it, have really got quite fond of it, and I should not like to see it have to come up again. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will accept the noble Viscount's Amendment.


My Lords, we have had good relations throughout this Bill, and I hope that what I have to say will not ruin them. The position is that there is here a conflict of evidence. I am perfectly well aware that the noble Lords who have spoken are great experts on deer. But so, for example, is Mr. G. Kenneth Whitehead. He is probably the greatest living English expert on deer, and he takes exactly the opposite view to that taken by the noble Lords who have just spoken. He would not allow any shooting of deer of any kind with a shotgun, and, in particular, he would not agree to, would not support and would give evidence against the use of the shotgun in this way against muntjac and Chinese water deer. Indeed, I may say that this goes much further. The main body of members of the Deer Society (this does not exclude individuals, of course) would join Mr. Whitehead in saying that this case is not proved and that, indeed, there is an alternative view about which they feel equally strongly. That is the first point.

I have to say, furthermore, that there has really been no authentic test that we know of—no test of any sort, either before the Bill that we are discussing or during its passage—to check on this point. The position therefore is, very strongly, that I hope the noble Viscount will feel—and I have met him on all his other Amendments—that on this one the right course of action is for the interdepartmental committee, seeing our words in black and white in Hansard and reading the case for and against this matter, to evaluate the two points of view as quickly as possible (and indeed, I hope, carry out the tests) so as to allow a proper decision to be made in accordance with the powers in the Bill.

We have a conflict; and we have a situation in which I hope that that conflict can be resolved in better ways than by arguing across the Floor of the Chamber on technical matters. But there are other points that I would put to your Lordships before I close. First, let us be clear about the Bill as it stands. The concession for the use of the shotgun—and I say this strongly to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley—by a farmer to protect his crops against deer of any kind, including these two species, is fully safeguarded in this Bill. Therefore, what are we now talking about? We are really talking about the shooting of these two species of deer—and I say this strongly to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—primarily for sport and pleasure. That is why I want to say first: let us be clear what we are talking about. It is a narrow area. I am not trying to be critical. I am saying that this is not going to harm the farmer protecting his crops; this is a case where the Amendment would come into operation mainly in connection with sport or pleasure.

The second major point is that Great Britain is now virtually alone in permitting the shotgun to be used on deer. Even in Ireland, under the 1976 Act the shotgun is not being allowed on any animal larger than a hare. So we are not alone in trying to take this general stand against the use of the shotgun.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, is there a large population of muntjac and Chinese water deer in Ireland?

9.26 p.m.


Of course not, my Lords. I am putting a different point to the noble Viscount—and perhaps he did not hear me—that they have made a definition which is that they think that cruelty is so easily inflicted that they have put a ban on the use of the shotgun on any animal larger than the ordinary hare. That is their reasoning about the dangers in the use of the shotgun. This would include any animal of that size even though they do not have these two particular species there.

Thirdly, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, spoke at an earlier stage about one standard weapon being prescribed in the Bill. I want to point out that this is a mistake. We are not here imposing a difficulty on farmers protecting their crops nor are we prescribing a standard weapon. We are only prescribing a minimum-sized weapon. Let us look at the particular problem of the muntjac and the Chinese water deer, bearing this in mind. The great difficulty arises—and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, knows this better than I—that the problem we now have with these two species of deer is that they are now quickly colonising more and more of the territory at present mainly covered by the roe deer. They are intermingling on a huge scale. If you take any 100-kilometre square map you can see that wherever there are muntjac deer there are roe deer. This is the great problem we have when we come to the precise technical argument.

Therefore, it would be quite wrong to lay down two different rules about weapons for two kinds of species which, as I want to prove in a moment, are very similar in size. This is very important and I hope that the noble Viscount will pay attention to this point. The great difficulty is going to be—and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, said this at the Committee stage, when he pointed it out very carefully—that it would be: totally impossible to carry out a distinction of this kind between the roe deer and the muntjac deer". It would make for a nonsense. It would provide the perfect excuse for a man who had shot a roe deer with a shotgun. He could say: "I thought it was a muntjac." I want to come to their similarity in stature in a moment. Secondly, I would say that it would make life easier and a good deal more profitable for poachers, who can obtain shotguns easier than rifles. They could use it and say: "I hit a roe deer, but I thought it was a muntjac deer, and I thought I had every right to use a shotgun on a muntjac deer. I am so sorry it was a roe deer."

Thirdly, it would be unfair, unrealistic and quite impossible to put on the police the burden of making this distinction when they were told that they had been aiming at the one and unhappily had hit the other. It would make for utter confusion if one tried at this point to make a distinction between what could be used on a roe deer and what could be used on a muntjac deer.

I want to talk now very briefly about the dimensions. First of all, if one looks at the body size of a muntjac deer—and I have the standard picture of the muntjac deer in front of me from the Field Guide to British Deer—it can be seen that the body size of the muntjac deer is virtually the same as that of many roe deer, particularly with the female. Indeed—and I bring this to the notice of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—in quite a few cases the muntjac deer is larger than the female roe deer. So we would now be prescribing for one a weapon quite improper compared with an animal of similar, indeed perhaps smaller, size.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord in what sense he means larger? Does he mean in weight, volume or height?


My Lords, I am coming quite deliberately to the point. If one looks at this in greater detail, one finds that the total body size, total length, is something over 3 feet 6 inches including the head. They hold their heads differently. The muntjac deer holds its head straight forward instead of holding it upright. The total length of body is about the same, about 3 feet 6 inches. The total depth of their body is about the same, about I foot. Their weight is also often very similar. Indeed, as I have said already, in some cases the muntjac is bigger particularly than the female roe deer.

If one looks at the target problem, which I know concerns the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, the problem of targeting on the animal, it is the case of course that the neck of the roe deer, which is the main target point, is larger. However, I am told by those who know better than I do about these things that the total body, as well as the neck, may well be a place at which to aim on a muntjac deer with a rifle. This is because a shot from a rifle will bring the deer down almost wherever it is aimed. Quite simply, the dimensions are virtually the same; the only difference is in the shortness of the leg. This is the great problem: namely, that the muntjac deer has short legs but a similar body. So we have this problem. Quite frankly, it would make a nonsense in the Bill to differentiate between roe deer and muntjac deer.

I want to deal with two or three very small points and then I shall try to end. The noble Viscount took a long time and I am bound to reply to him because he feels very strongly about it. The point is that he himself was under a misapprehension—I hope he now admits it—when he said at the time of our last discussion on the Deer Bill in our previous session that some of them—and he was speaking about muntjac deer and Chinese water deer—are little bigger than hares. I am quoting from his own speech. This really is wildly wrong. The average weight of an ordinary brown hare is from between 7 to 8½ lb; the weight of a male muntjac is between 40 to 50 lb.— roughly six times as heavy. A female muntjac weighs about 30 lb. So really he cannot make these wild statements about size. Quite frankly, the similarity is greater than the dissimilarity between various kinds of deer, and these animals are not like hares.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, if the noble Lord is quoting figures, may I ask him to quote Chinese water deer?


My Lords, I have the figures here. The Chinese water deer weigh up to 35 lb—four to five times as much as a hare. Those are the figures. He said that some of them were "little bigger"; they are four and five times bigger at the very minimum and I want to state that quite bluntly to him.

Lastly, may I mention one final point. There is a particular characteristic of the muntjac. They fight with their teeth, and nature has consequently provided them with an additional protection; they have extra thick and hard skin on their head, neck and shoulders. In fact all their skin is tougher than that of a roe, and penetration by shooting—to be lethal and not merely to wound—must be by appropriate weapon and ammunition. This is a very difficult matter. It means that if a shotgun has to be used—the noble Viscount may be able to use it successfully: no one is denying that—in the hands of less experienced people it can often be the cause of terrible maiming and suffering rather than of bringing down the animal and killing it. Indeed, one would say that the maximum distance from which a shotgun ought to be fired is 20 yards. Can he really tell me that he can get within 20 yards every time of a muntjac deer? That is one of the difficulties—you cannot be sure of that, particularly if you are aiming at roe deer and not certain of what you are doing, because they will not be within 20 yards.

Finally, I said to the noble Viscount at the Committee stage, and I say to him again, that it is not good enough to use such phrases as, "we should use the sort of shot that are used on the larger size of geese." That is not fair. The average size of shot he is using is used on geese, and they are only six or seven pounds in weight as compared with these deer. Secondly, in a rough shoot anybody who is out with 5's, 6's and 7's in his gun is not going to unload when he sees a muntjac running across in front of him and quickly put in No. 2 shot. Of course not: he will take a pot-shot at the muntjac deer with the shot that he has in his shotgun. That is just the sort of thing that we do not want to encourage.

I have tried to answer the noble Viscount in technical terms because I fairly realise that he is not to be set aside with a simple statement of principle on this matter. I have tried to go into detail. The kernel of my case is that it would be quite impossible to do this and to enforce it when we look into the problems, particularly in connection with roe deer. I think it would make a nonsense of the Bill to do so. I hope, therefore, that he will look at it in this way: that our views are on record now as two opposing views, that there are witnesses like Mr. Whitehead who can be called in to put his experience against that of the noble Viscount, and that it is for the interdepartmental committee to look at this matter and see whether we can reach greater sophistication in weapons definition, although at this point I do not think it is so clear that we ought to do anything in the Bill itself.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am still not impressed by some of the arguments that have been adduced. If I may reply to some of them fairly quickly, I should like to begin by saying that I am not bowled over by the name of the expert which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has called to his aid. He stalks on the place next door to me and I have met him—


My Lords, if I might just interrupt the noble Viscount, the expert concerned is actually a friend of mine. He happens to be a paper manufacturer by profession and lives in Chorley in Lancashire.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. We go on to the argument which was put forward by the noble Lord, and that is that in Ireland they have said that you shall not use a shotgun for anything larger than a hare. If they had said "You shall not use a shotgun for anything smaller than a roe" they would, in effect, have been saying the same as my Amendment says.

This Amendment is said to make a nonsense of the Bill, because the poacher could use it. The poacher is going to come up with all kinds of stories. I have personal, first-hand experience of deer poachers and they will use any kind of excuse. On one occasion, when I caught some deer poachers red-handed with a shotgun after red deer at night, their claim was that they were trying to shoot a dog which was running amok and killing sheep. The sheriff did not believe them any more than I believed them, and they were duly convicted. We can place some reliance on courts in being able to distinguish between a tall story, a good story and a true story.

The noble Lord also suggested that, in the heat of the moment in the field, people will not be able to tell one deer from another. But in the heat of the moment in the field when birds get up, it is necessary for a gun to be able to tell a snipe from an oyster catcher or some other small wading bird—a knot or whatever it is—that is a protected bird. It is perfectly possible to do so, and indeed I am quite certain that all but the most careless trigger-happy guns would be perfectly well able to distinguish between one target and another and hold their fire.

The noble Lord then spoke about enforcement. The only way in which you will enforce the provisions of this Bill is if you can produce a dead animal. If you produce a dead animal with the wrong kind of shot inside it, that is the one way in which you will be able to enforce the Bill. If you do not have the dead animal, even if the person has fired at it with the wrong kind of shot, you will never be able to prove your case, because of the way in which the Bill is drafted.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is not taking the point that I tried to make. When you take the fact that the muntjac body is about the same size as, and often bigger than, a roe deer's, the perfect answer in that case, when accused, is "I shot a roe deer, but I thought it was a muntjac deer". This is one of the basic arguments to which the noble Viscount will not apply his mind.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I was just coming to that point. The noble Lord goes on about this question of size. There is a tremendous difference in shape. You recognise the flying bird by its pattern of flight. You do not recognise it by identifying the plumage markings. You know the way in which the bird flies, and the way in which it gets up. The same is absolutely true of these deer. The pattern which you see in your sights is totally different in the case of the roe deer and the muntjac deer. Their heights are different. The weights are enormous in pounds, but most of that is stomach fill. Most of this is what is in the rumen. If the hare had a rumen, it would be approaching some of these deer very much more closely.

So I am not at all impressed by these arguments, but I am impressed by another argument, and it is extremely unfortunate that this Bill is always being taken late at night. In Committee stage, we were debating against the clock, trying to get the staff of the House home to their beds. Here, again, at Report stage we are last on. We are late, and the House is not so full as one could wish it to be. I am impressed by the arguments of my noble friends and the Whips on the other side of the House: that, as the House is not so full as it should be, perhaps it would be unfair to proceed further with this Amendment. However, I do not abandon it. If I withdraw the Amendment tonight, I shall return to it again at Third Reading, because I am not convinced or persuaded by the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has used. I do not think that it is right to expose the general public to considerable danger to life without showing good cause why this should be done, and I do not believe that good cause has been shown. Nevertheless, in view of the lateness of the hour and in view also of the time which we might want to take in thinking over this matter a little further, may I ask for your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.