HL Deb 13 February 1979 vol 398 cc1203-16

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Northfield.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Schedule 2 [Prohibited Firearms and ammunition]:

Viscount THURSO moved the following Amendment:

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 calibre 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 .203 inches (5.16 millimetres) in diameter (that is to say size AAA or any larger size)".")

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this Bill has indeed been unfortunate in one respect, and that is that it has always managed to come on at a very late hour in your Lordships' House. I am, however, most grateful to the Whips for bringing it on a little earlier tonight, because we shall at least get a fair chance to end the matter. Again, something else unfortunate has taken place, and I must ask the leave of the House to take my Amendment slightly differently, because there is a misprint in it. I asked the Public Bill Office to put down an Amendment similar to the one which I had down at Report but changing the shot size from BB to AAA, with the appropriate change of measurements. Unfortunately, one word also got changed in the process and this word is in paragraph 10(a), which, as the Amendment stands reads: paragraph 1 above shall have effect as if there were added at the end the words ' of less calibre than 12 bore '", whereas it should have read "of less gauge than 12 bore". This is in fact a misprint, one of which I was not aware until I was already down here in your Lordships' House, and one which is unfortunate in that it reads wrongly in the context of the rest of the Bill. I am therefore advised by the Public Bill Office that I should ask leave of your Lordships' House for this Amendment to be taken as though the word "calibre" had been printed as the word "gauge".


My Lords, it is an unusual procedure for this to happen, but it is, as the noble Viscount quite rightly says, in the hands of your Lordships to decide. If your Lordships decide that it is a reasonable thing to do, it can be done.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am very grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to proceed in this manner, because it was something which I am quite sure nobody involved wished to see happen. I argued this particular Amendment at fairly considerable length at Report stage and I do not think that it would be right or necessary for me to argue it at quite the same length at this stage, because I hope that we may be approaching agreement between those with differing views upon this matter in the Bill. The point which I was trying to make, and the point which this Amendment is designed to deal with, is that there are two exotic species of deer which have escaped from deer parks or zoos or elsewhere and established themselves in the wild in various parts of England, and which are spreading. These are the muntjac and the Chinese water deer.

The Bill, which is designed to provide for a number of matters as regards deer, should also in my view be providing circumstances in which wild populations of animals like deer can be properly controlled. These particular small species of deer are normally found in woodlands and in fairly dense cover and are not to be found roaming on wide open spaces like the moors of Yorkshire, or Scotland, or somewhere like that. They are also to be found fairly close to human habitation—to villages, towns and so on. In those circumstances, to specify for the control of those deer—and the control of those deer will be necessary because there are no wolves now native in Britain—a high velocity rifle is, in my view, first unnecessary; secondly, undesirable from the point of view of the circumstances in which the deer are likely to be pursued; and, thirdly, dangerous to the general public.

I put those points at much greater length when I spoke to this Amendment on Report. I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, at that time that we were all relying upon something which had been promised during the course of debate on the Bill; namely, the provision of an interdepartmental review of suitable weaponry for the pursuit of deer. We were promised a proper and full interdepartmental review of suitable weaponry for the pursuit of different forms of deer and for the control of those deer. There are two points arising from that. First, there is the pursuit of deer from the point of view of the sportsman, and secondly, their control from the point of view of the people who are responsible for having these populations of deer on their ground and who are therefore responsible for keeping them at a stable level so that they do not go out and colonise other people's ground uninvited.

We are trying to get suitable weaponry for that and we have been promised an interdepartmental review. Until that takes place I put it to your Lordships that it would be unwise to do away with the shotgun altogether. I believe that to be so because of the conditions in which the deer will have to be culled and controlled. I think that the shotgun will be a better weapon for the purpose. Also, I think that it would be advisable, from the point of view of public safety, because I do not want to see immediately, and without due thought—and without interdepartmental thought—everyone with deer on their ground given the right to demand a firearms certificate for the control of those deer.

Since the Report stage I have had support for that from the National Farmers' Union, who see the force of the argument for giving people the proper tools wherewith to control deer populations so that there is no unwarranted spread of species. I have also spoken to the Red Deer Commission and have found the interesting point that the Red Deer Commission in Scotland has bought shotguns and SG wherewith to shoot red deer in woodlands, because they consider that in certain circumstances it may be desirable to use shotguns rather than rifles in woodland conditions.

Therefore, I find myself not alone, at any rate among those who have the responsibility for the management of these herds of wild deer, in believing that the retention of the shortgun at this stage, until the case is fully proved otherwise, is desirable.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has added an Amendment to the Amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, which he quite fairly will, I am sure, state to your Lordships is more consistent with the other parts of the Bill, as the Bill now stands. That, I am prepared to accept. He has gone to some considerable lengths to meet me over this matter, and when he puts his case to your Lordships I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that he has a case for his Amendment. Indeed, I would be going against my own argument were I to argue against accepting his Amendment to my Amendment.

My argument is really that, at the end of the day, the interdepartmental review should be wiser than both of us, and that I am prepared to accept. However, at this stage, I still feel that we should retain at any rate the right to use a shotgun with the appropriate load for these smaller type of deer, largely so as not to proliferate the right to demand firearms certificates and to use high velocity rifles in our woodlands in densely populated areas. Therefore, I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that I shall, when he moves it, accept his Amendment but I hope he will also accept the spirit of mine. I beg to move.

7.58 p.m.

Lord NORTHFIELD moved as an Amendment to the Amendment:

Leave out sub-paragraph (b) and insert— ("(6) paragraph 7 above shall have effect as if there were added at the end the words "other than a cartridge—

  1. (a) containing a single non-spherical projectile weighing not less than 350 graines (22.68 grammes); or
  2. (b) purporting to contain shot each of which is .203 inches (5.16 millimetres) in diameter (that is to say, size AAA)".")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I understand the procedure of your Lordships' House I think that we now deal simply with the Amendment to the Amendment and dispose of that, and then resume a general debate on the Amendment as amended. In that case I can be very brief. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for saying that he will accept this Amendment. The simple justification is that this is the kind of weapon and shot which we have specified in the early parts of the Bill as being able to be used, for example, by farmers protecting crops from marauding deer, and it seems sensible not to litter the Bill with all kinds of different provisions regarding different shot and so on. If we are to make an exception in the case of these particular deer, it seems sensible to use the same definitions. For that reason, and without more ado, perhaps I may simply move the Amendment to the Amendment. I beg to move.


My Lords, we have heard the Amendment moved and we have heard the Amendment to the Amendment moved. I think that noble Lords would be well advised to accept the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. Of course, one should add the qualifying rider that one would hope that no noble Lord or person in the country will try to add to these two types of deer. Therein lies the danger of doing this. I appreciate the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and I think we must emphasise that we are doing this as a very special exception.

8.1 p.m.


My Lords, I disagree with practically all the arguments that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has adduced for his Amendment. However, I think that we must let this Bill leave this House with some consensus. I appreciate his feelings about this. Of course, I understand that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, is proposed in order to keep the Bill more consistent throughout. However, knowing as I do a little, although not much—but I venture to say I have a little more first-hand knowledge than the noble Viscount possesses—about these deer, I would point out that they are not always walking about in thick cover in woods and therefore cannot be shot with rifles. Unfortunately, I have the little invaders around my own home in Gloucestershire. Certainly in the day-time they live in thick cover in the woods, but many times when I get up in the morning, or sometimes when I am walking round in the evening, I see them in the full open country. It is just as easy to deal with them with a rifle as it is to deal with the roe deer, which come out of the woods at dusk and dawn, with a rifle.

I cannot understand why the National Farmers' Union is quite so perturbed about them because of all the kinds of deer that we have recited so often in this House in connection with this Bill, I should have thought that the muntjac was, on the whole, of absolutely no concern to farmers. It lives mainly in the woods; it may do a little damage there—not a great deal—but it does not frequent farm crops in the normal course of events, although I have seen it in open glades, and so on.

However, as my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton has just said, I am concerned that if we agree this Amendment, we must somehow assure ourselves that it will not be extended in another place to other forms of deer. I do not think we can be sure of that, and that is the worry. Although it might be acceptable to shoot muntjac deer and Chinese water deer at very close range with shotguns, it would not be acceptable so to shoot any of the larger classes of deer from roe deer upwards. Nevertheless, if it wins the goodwill of the noble Viscount for this most important Bill from a countryside point of view, I must support the Amendment and rely on the interdepartmental committee or inquiry to sort this matter out and reach some sensible judgment on the situation.


My Lords, I should like to support this complete Amendment. As my noble friend Lord Dulverton has said, muntjac deer wandering about outside woods can always be shot—and, indeed, should be shot—with a rifle. However, a question arises when they are in woods and I must admit that I have only seen them in woods. Therefore, I must support the noble Viscount and agree that perhaps the shotgun is a better weapon.

I, too, would be very sorry to see this Amendment extended to other types of deer. I know nothing about the feelings of the National Farmers' Union on this matter, but I am sure that they would agree. If another place so decide—and I must not say what I had in mind—in their wisdom to include other species, I should be most distressed. But I think that fear is unjustified. If another place wish to lose the Bill altogether, there is nothing that we can do here. I do not think that we are putting any temptation whatever in their way. Therefore, I am glad to see that the consensus of the House so far is that this Amendment should be agreed.

On Question, Amendment to the Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, at this stage I should like to make one remark because I accept that the House is now moving towards a final decision on this very difficult matter. I have told the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that I do not see any blacks and whites here and that it is of marginal difference between us. However, there are matters that fill me with considerable concern. I shall repeat just two of them because it should be on the record that it is only with enormous misgivings that I accept this final amended Amendment.

The first point—and I have made it before—is that the great danger lies in the intermixing of roe deer and muntjac deer. Once we make in an Act of Parliament what in effect becomes a legitimate defence for some action, it is a very strong defence. In other words, a man can go before the magistrates having shot a roe deer and say that he was aiming at a muntjac, that the two deers mix, and are mixed in that particular part of the country. That is a great danger. He will be in a much better position to defend himself before the courts because there will be an Act which says that one cannot use a shotgun on the muntjac, and he can say "I thought I was aiming at the others". If it was not in the Act he would not have that defence. That is the point I want to make. Therefore, the possibility of a statutory defence for someone taking pot shots with a shotgun at roe deer is opened up. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough. It would not be a statutory defence if it were not in the Bill.

My second point is one that I did not make during the Report stage. It concerns the problem of the trajectory of the rifle. On Report the noble Viscount was very concerned about the use of the rifle. We know that .22 rifles are used on rabbits, and if we said that that was a legitimate point to make, we should have to reopen the whole issue of on what size of small animals rifles are used anyway. Therefore, we are not breaking new ground by trying to insist that the shotgun be phased out and replaced by the rifle for control of all kinds of deer.

I have made my points. I have made my protest. I believe that this Amendment is misguided for all the reasons which I gave on Report and which I shall not repeat. However, I suppose that if we accept the Amendment as amended, as the noble Viscount said we must await the advice of the inter-departmental committee. After the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, I shall press the Government to set up that committee very quickly and to ask it to report as soon as possible on this issue of appropriate weapons, shot, and so on, for the species of deer, or any other matter. That is the only way we can leave it. I am very sad about the whole thing because I recognise the dangers that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, about what happens once the door of exceptions is opened and the possibility of other kinds of deer being pushed through that door by people who do not especially like the Bill anyway. However, as I understand it, the House seems prepared to accept this amended Amendment, and therefore I do not think that I should resist.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord North-field, for his qualified acceptance of this Amendment. I should like to give him an answer on his two points, not in any way to put him down but, I hope, to give him comfort. He is stating that this Amendment will in some way establish a legitimate defence for shooting roe deer. With the greatest respect, it will not. It only establishes a legitimate defence for shooting the species specified. If somebody is going to tell a tall story to the magistrates he will tell a tall story. He will say, "I thought it was a rabbit". This sort of thing has happened before. People have been shot in these sorts of circumstances, let alone deer. There are unfortunately, and there always will be, careless shots, but I do not think they constitute a major menace in this case.

The other point was the question of the trajectory of the rifle. There is a world of difference between the lead bullet in a .22 and the cased bullet in the .236. If the noble Lord were to consult people who know about ranges he would find that half a mile is sufficient backing for a .22 whereas a mile would be required for the .236. I think that I have a point here, in that there is a considerable difference in the danger which would be inflicted upon the unsuspecting public by the rather higher velocity weapon. I do not want to go on arguing technical points before your Lordships at Third Reading. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord North-field, for yielding over this. I am even more grateful, in a sense, for the fact that this may produce a quick inter-departmental committee, which I think is most important.

On Question, Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Northfield.)


My Lords, I shall delay the House only for a brief moment to raise two points. One is to correct an unfortunate error on my personal behalf. I am reported as saying on Report on 8th February, in column 951: I… am very much opposed to it"— it being the Bill. I hope that your Lordships will realise by what I have said that what I meant to say was "I … was … opposed to it". I mention this point partly to correct the record but mainly to draw your Lordships' attention to what I believe has been the happy path that has been taken by all noble Lords who have taken part in the Deer Bill, Marks 1 and 2, in getting agreement on the matters raised. I should like to mention in particular the noble Lords, Lord Northfield and Lord Wells-Pestell, with whom I have not always agreed. At times I may have treated them rather like recalcitrant cows, or even deer (they can choose which they like to call themselves), but I am most grateful for their tolerance and kindness.

The other point I should like to take up has been brought up once or twice by my noble friend Lord Mansfield, and concerns his mythical Auntie Aggie who goes out hunting with staghounds and, in pursuit of deer, by mistake or possibly because she gets out of control, crosses land that she should not be on. My noble friend Lord Mansfield raised this question once or twice and asked what would be the legal position of this mythical aunt if she strayed on to this land, and I should like to repeat this question.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I add one word to what the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has said. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for his courtesy throughout this Bill. We may have been struggling like a couple of old stags, but I think we can stand back and say that neither of us was thrown. I wish him the greatest success with the Bill in another place, and I hope that we may soon see it back in your Lordships' House. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for his help, and for the help of others from his Department who gave me advice for which I was extremely grateful. May I also thank the Whips for at last bringing us to the light of day. It has been very useful, and I wish the Bill every success. Anything I can do to help it at any later stage I shall be only too willing to do.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said to me. I never take personally any criticism that he makes in which I am involved. I know that he dislikes Ministers on this side of the House and dislikes the Government even more, but we do not hold that against him at all. In fact, I have always found him very helpful when the occasion has arisen.

At Report stage, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, asked a number of questions which were essentially legal questions which I did not feel able to answer because I had no competence to do so. However, I promised that I would go into the matter and write to him with regard to the effect on hunts and hunt followers of Clause 7 of my noble friend Lord North-field's Deer Bill. I am quoting from the letter, and if Lord Stanley of Alderley does not mind I shall quote the essential points rather than detain your Lordships unnecessarily. I said in the letter: My understanding is that the case is established that, to be guilty of aiding and abetting, a person must be proved to have intentionally encouraged the offence and to have had knowledge of the facts which go to constitute the offence. I gave the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, a number of cases and quoted from the various reports. Thus a hunt follower who trespasses on another's land whether it is open country or a suburban garden will not be guilty of aiding and abetting an offence under Clause 7 if the prosecution fail to show that he encouraged, and intended to encourage, the hunt in the commission of that offence. A hunt follower who trespasses on another's land in open country will not be guilty of aiding and abetting such an offence if the prosecution fail to show that he had knowledge of the fact which prevented the hunt from relying on the defence in subsection (3); that is, that the hunt knew that the land was owned by an organisation which had bought it for the sole purpose of excluding the hunt. I do not think I need say anything more than that. I think it covers the point which the noble Earl raised.

There are two other matters that I undertook to bring before your Lordships. One was an assurance about the consultation with the British Deer Society. My noble friend Lord Northfield specifically asked some time back that the British Deer Society should be consulted before the powers referred to in Clause 5(5)(a) and (b) were used. These are powers given to the responsible Ministers to enable appropriate steps to be taken to deal with outbreaks of animal diseases. In response to the noble Lord's request, I said I would look into the matter.

Having done so and on the assumption that as regards Northern Ireland he has in mind the Irish Deer Society rather than the British Deer Society, I can give him an assurance in these terms: where time and the gravity of the situation permit, the agricultural departments concerned (that is to say, in England the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; in Wales the Welsh Office; in Northern Ireland the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland) will consult with the Society about any action involving deer which is contemplated under the Acts mentioned in Clause 5(5)(a) and (b). I feel sure that my noble friend will appreciate that there could be a few cases where the overriding need for immediate action to deal with animal diseases might preclude such consultation. I am not being difficult when I say that, and, in practice, I believe neither society will have cause to complain that their legitimate interest in deer was being ignored.

Finally, a word about a matter that arose under Clauses 1 and 2 dealing with the effect of the removal of the words: if he satisfies the court before which he is charged". As to the admission of those words, I can confirm that they make no difference at all to the power of the police to prosecute in cases where they believe an offence has been committed. The result of Lord Northfield's Amendment is simply that we now have consistency in the Bill whereas before we have had inconsistency. The drafting has been improved and no ambiguity or obscurity remains. The police will in no way feel inhibited from prosecuting, nor will an innocent person be put at greater risk.

I do not think I have any other matters to clear up. The Government are obviously happy that these various matters have been resolved, with less difficulty than at one time, perhaps on the last occasion, we anticipated. It may be unusual for a Minister to wish to express his personal gratitude to the officials in his Department, but I wish to do that in view of the magnificent contribution they have made, and I do so because, like your Lordships, I am indebted to them.


My Lords, I wish on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mansfield to thank the Minister very much indeed for the trouble he has taken in dealing with various noble Lords' Aunt Aggies, including the point raised by my noble friend Lord Dulverton. I also wish on my own behalf to thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on his successful, if from his point of view not altogether perfect, conclusion of the Bill.


My Lords, it would be remiss of me if I did not reciprocate the kind thanks and warm good wishes I have received from all parts of the House. Noble Lords have other business to deal with, so I will be brief. I wish to thank, first, my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell who, as I said before, has personally taken on the Bill, although he has now moved to another Department: he wanted to keep his interest in the matter and we are very grateful to him. I particularly thank him because, in addition to all he has done, he has dealt this evening with three matters of some importance. The assurances he has given are of immense importance to the success of the Bill.

Secondly, I wish with him to thank again the officials at the Home Office. It is unusual for a Private Member's Bill of this complexity to get so much help, and I am grateful to my noble friend and the Government for providing the help of parliamentary counsel and the continuous advice of Home Office officials; they worked late hours and took no end of trouble to make sure we got the Bill as right as possible at this second attempt. I hope, if I may say this to my noble friend, that that augurs well for Government support in the other place. I hope I have now in a way committed the Government to the Bill should there be any hitch in finally getting it into law.

Thirdly, I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides. I crossed swords, I thought a good deal less this time, with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and I think that after this Bill I can count him a firm friend. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, fights hard but is always courteous and he has earned my respect and goodwill, and I am grateful to him. He can claim that the matter regarding consistency about which my noble friend was speaking was worked out by him, not by me. Noble Lords in all parts of the House have been very helpful indeed. Without mentioning other names, I will merely say "Thank you" to them all, and I hope they will support me if we now run into troubled waters when the Bill has to get through the other place.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.