HL Deb 17 July 1980 vol 411 cc2026-47

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. Your Lordships will remember that my original Deer Bill obtained a Third Reading as long ago as July 1977 and again in February 1979. So, my Lords, we have been here twice before and we are hoping that this third time we shall get a very important small piece of legislation on to the statute book. On each of those previous occasions the Bill was blocked in another place because it had to try for its place at the end of Private Members' business, as is often the case with such small reforms. Happily, at the beginning of this Session Mr. John Farr won a place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills and took up the Deer Bill, re-presenting it in fact in the same form in which it left your Lordships' House early last year.

However, as the months passed it became clear that due to the large number of Private Members' Bills which had precedence over Mr. Farr's Bill, the only chance of his Bill completing all stages in another place this Session lay in its going through, as they say, "On the nod", and certainly for Report and Third Reading. So a choice had to be made. How much of the Bill could we so get through on the nod by the abbreviated procedures in the Commons? It remained abundantly clear that as deer poaching had become even more prevalent than when we discussed it first it was more urgent than ever that Parliament should take steps to curb it with the least possible delay.

For those reasons and because of opposition by certain deer farmers to other parts of the original Bill, it was decided to trim the Bill back to those parts that are fundamental in combating poaching and to leave the other provisions for a future day, for a future Bill, in a future session. This abbreviated Bill then had its Third Reading in another place on 4th July, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Farr. Here I want to thank the Government on behalf of Mr. Farr and all those who have been behind this Bill, for their support for the amended Bill and particularly, once again, as I have had the pleasure of doing on previous occasions, I want also to thank the Minister and to ask him to pass on my thanks to the Home Office officials who have helped in advising, redrafting and finally shaping this Bill.

Before I come to this Bill, what have we lost of the original Bill? We have lost things like the definition of close seasons for muntjac and Chinese water deer; we have lost restrictions on killing deer in the close seasons; we have lost much needed restraints on the use of shotguns and restricting the use of shotguns to genuine and serious cases of damage by deer; we have lost the extension of prohibited articles and firearms; we have lost provisions to prohibit the taking of live deer and the undesirable trade in live animals and we have lost certain exemptions to all these things for veterinary surgeons. So we have lost some things of some importance and I will return to that at the end.

At least we have now a Bill which is very important in the most important offence that is growing in this country; namely, the mass poaching of deer by the most undesirable methods. So it is an anti-poaching measure that I now present to your Lordships for Second Reading. All organisations that we know of, including the British Field Sports Society, bodies like the Forestry Commission, the Wildfowlers Association—all such bodies support this Bill. As to the detailed provisions of the Bill, your Lordships will see that the wording of this shortened Bill is virtually the same as in the equivalent parts of the Bill which we approved last year.

Clause 1 makes it a criminal offence to be on land without authority in search of deer—in other words, to poach deer. Done on today's scale, deer poaching is big business—and very nasty business at that. Venison fetches very high prices. I checked the prices last weekend and the price is 70p to 80p per pound now; £30 for a roe carcase to well over £100 for a red deer, and there is no sign that these high prices are falling. As we have all agreed on previous occasions when I have had the pleasure of introducing this Bill, many of the methods used by poachers are barbarous in the extreme; they are carried out with most offensive brutality and appalling cruelty on a scale which the very pictures and photographs make one almost ashamed to be a countryman.

Clauses 2 and 3, in conjunction with Schedule 1, establish an ordered procedure for transactions in venison, thus enabling the police to trace venison from deer killed illegally. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 hang together as, we hope, an effective method of, first, making poaching a criminal offence and then establishing methods for the control of the sale of venison, so that the origins of such venison can be traced as a further weapon against the poacher.

Under the law as it is today the police are severely handicapped when dealing with poaching and poachers. Indeed, it is often said that the law almost favours the poacher. Clause 4, backed up by the court powers in Clause 5, seeks to remedy these deficiencies. It is to be hoped that the courts really will use the powers that will be available to them if this Bill becomes an Act. The reasons for Clause 6 dealing with offences by corporate bodies, are self-explanatory and do not call for comment.

Perhaps I should say a word about Schedule 2. When the Deer Act 1963 passed into law, the whole climate of opinion with regard to deer was completely different from what it is today: poaching was much more limited and somewhat localised; deer poachers were not the organised gangs that they are today, travelling considerable distances, using sophisticated and often cruel and expensive methods; venison prices were low; very much less was known about the management of deer and the techniques of dealing with deer damage to crops and trees. While therefore the 1963 Act was undoubtedly a great step forward at that time, much of it is now out-of-date. Schedule 2 is a first attempt—and only a first attempt—to provide a more realistic framework in which to operate the provisions of the Act. It increases the powers of search now also to examine vehicles, weapons and so on; it gives increased powers to detain things used in committing the offences, and it increases penalties so that there may be an extra penalty according to the number of deer taken instead of one single penalty for one deer.

So this is now a very simple Bill, to which I am speaking as briefly as possible. But, in conclusion, in moving the Second Reading there are three points I should like to make. The first is that, as will be noted, the Bill does not cover the areas of land owned by the Crown. In the case of the last Bill, we did not put in such a provision because the then Minister my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell wrote to me in April 1977 in the following terms: There can be no question of the Crown instructing any of its servants to carry out their function in such a way as to contravene the provisions of this Bill if it becomes law. To put the matter beyond doubt I give you an assurance to this effect". I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who I understand is to speak in this debate, will feel able to confirm the continuation of that assurance about the areas of land owned by the Crown.

My second point is that one other inevitable casualty of pruning the original Bill is its application to Northern Ireland, the only country in Europe where deer are without any protection whatever under the law. I am therefore delighted to inform your Lordships that, as far as I understand with general agreement, deer legislation in Northern Ireland is now being incor- porated in a new draft comprehensive wildlife order. If the Minister can confirm my understanding of that matter, I am sure your Lordships who watch the affairs of Northern Ireland will be much relieved with that information.

My final point is to look to the future. What is the future if we can get this limited Bill on to the statute book? I think we must then consider what steps we can take to achieve fully comprehensive legislation for deer in England and Wales. Much will depend on whether the Government have plans to introduce legislation to deal with deer farming, because some of the opposition, vociferous opposition—I am not complaining about it—to the provisions that we have abandoned for the time being has come from those who are now setting up in deer farming. I understand that the Government are considering legislation on deer farming.

A further consideration in looking at the future of legislation in this field must be how the Government intend fully to implement the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council that the harvesting of velvet from live deer should be prohibited in relation to all deer, not merely deer which are livestock on agricultural land. The orders which the House passed recently are incomplete in coverage, and perhaps in a future Bill we can complete that job as well. So I am looking to a future, perhaps in the next Session, when we will have another Deer Bill which will perhaps deal with some of the things we have for the time being put aside, when we shall be dealing, I hope, with deer farming, and when we shall be dealing also with the final provisions concerning the harvesting of velvet from live deer. So there is work ahead besides the immediate job of moving this Bill today.

I hope very much that your Lordships, in giving this Bill a Second Reading, will also feel able to apply a self-denying ordinance and not move amendments to it when we get to Committee stage and beyond. The reason is that, although the Government have kindly indicated their support for the Bill, they have given an indication that there may well not be time to consider in another place any amendments that might be moved and carried in this Chamber. As I say, we have been here twice before. We have refined and changed and adapted, and finally pruned back to a core of a Bill which I think has general support.

I hope very much, therefore, that we can now complete the work on this limited statute and pass it into law before the House goes into recess for the summer. For that purpose we shall need, as I say, to refrain from amending it, and I hope that that is a course which the whole House would approve, because I have sensed in the years that I have been associated with this measure that there is widespread support in this House for a Bill of this kind and, indeed, enthusiasm that it should be carried into law as soon as ever possible. I beg to move.

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

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, very much regrets that he is unable to be here today. He has already been down, as your Lordships know, for the Scottish housing Bill, and he was not able to be here today. I am to a certain extent speaking on his behalf, although not as eloquently as he would.

It is a rather emasculated Bill that we are contemplating today—in fact not so much emasculated as properly gralloched. We have lost, as the noble Lord says, many clauses dealing with various matters, and not just ones which impinge on the deer farmers, either. In losing the clauses dealing with, for instance, firearms and matters like that, we have possibly suffered a loss which it is difficult to see how it may be recovered. I entirely agree with the noble Lord's suggestion that possibly we should encourage the Government, if they are going to do something about deer farming, to incorporate as many of the lost clauses as they possibly can, but it is difficult to see how these important clauses about firearms et cetera could be included in such a Bill. In fact, what one really has to mourn more than anything else is that the Government have not seen fit to take on board a Bill which is not very large, which does not have very many opponents, although owing to the customs of Parliament they have had a disproportionate effect, and into which Government resources, includ- ing the work of draftsmen over a period of time, and a great deal of help have gone. Perhaps it may be that the Government will repent about that.

We must all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for ploughing doggedly on into this, his third attempt. I do not wish to detain your Lordships long tonight, except to ask the noble Lord about one matter which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has asked me to raise, and of which I have given Lord Northfield notice. It was a matter which also was in the previous Bills. We are not entirely certain about the various clauses which talk about "the owner or occupier" giving various consents. The question I should like to ask Lord Northfield is whether this use of the phrase, "the owner or occupier" in fact makes any change in the law as it at present is, except in so far, obviously, as it is dealing with a new matter. Does it establish rights for either landlord or tenant which did not exist before and which can be upheld as against any agreement which they may privately have entered into? That is the question that we ask. Apart from that, we welcome the Bill and hope that it will speedily become law.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in expressing gratitude and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for the persistence with which he has engineered this Bill through your Lordships' House twice already, and now, though in truncated form, we hope for a third time. We who are interested in the welfare of the deer of Britain are immensely grateful to Lord Northfield for this, and we must express our gratitude also to Mr. John Parr who has been steering this Bill through another place, not without considerable work and great difficulties.

We have a great many regrets that so many of the good provisions worked out so carefully and debated in this House have had to be cut out, but Lord Northfield has hinted to your Lordships, if he has not fully described, why it has been needful to truncate the Bill into its shortened form. But we must all now hope to see the Bill on the Statute Book as soon as ever may be.

I do not know whether I should declare an interest in this matter, but, speaking as I do, I am proud to be the president of the British Deer Society which has all the interests of deer and their welfare very much at heart. We continue to hear horrifying stories and information on the increasing intensity and professional cunning of these poaching gangs, accompanied often by cruelty which would, I think, curdle your Lordships' blood if I were to recount some of them.

The new phenomenon of deer farming—and it is a fairly new phenomenon in this country—was an unexpected complication to the passage of the Bill. I would echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, because there is a need now for the Government to give their minds to drawing up proper regulations governing the conduct of deer farming. I understand that the Scottish Office has had a working party in being for some little time now which has been looking into the problems of deer farming and what regulations might or should be applied to that practice. I hope very much that that will lead to legislation. But, I should like to add that I hope that it will be regarded as a United Kingdom matter and not simply as a Scottish matter, although we must welcome the initiative of the Scottish Office in setting up this working or examining party.

I shall not detain the House any longer except to echo again the words of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield: I hope that we shall not attempt to alter the Bill's present phraseology before sending it back to another place, because it really is urgent—I repeat "urgent"—that we now get the legislation on to the statute book and into operation. I shall simply add one further thought which my noble friends on the Front Bench connected with the Scottish Office may well have thought of; namely, that when, hopefully, the Bill becomes law there is every good reason for hoping that the Government will take a look at the Deer (Scotland) Act, as it now exists, to see whether the provisions against poaching and the fines and forfeitures there should not be brought into line with the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for introducing this Bill and I admire his persistence in the matter. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes, and in particular I am very glad to see that the maximum fine of £500 per animal is a realistic fine. Clause 5 gives the courts power to order the forfeiture of weapons and vehicles, and that is a very real deterrent. Also, the cancellation of a firearm or shotgun certificate is again a realistic punishment and a real deterrent.

It must be agreed that all forms of poaching are dishonest. The poacher is helping himself to something which does not belong to him. Many modern poachers operate on a large scale and make a great deal of money by doing so. Some are very sophisticated villains and some operate in gangs. I do not seek to add the poaching of game to the Bill, but I ask the Government to review the existing penalties under the Game Act and to increase the penalties to a realistic and modern level. Most poachers of game birds are charged under Section 30 of the Game Act and the maximum penalty is now a fine of only £20. A poacher must be a very bad poacher and, indeed, unworthy of the name "poacher", if he cannot get away with enough pheasants to show a handsome profit, even if the court imposes the maximum fine.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, like most other noble Lords taking part in this debate tonight I have become something of a veteran speaker on Second Readings of Deer Bills. But, in common with everyone else who has spoken, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on appearing yet again, on a third occasion, with a Deer Bill, albeit a rather shrunken version of the ones which we have considered here previously.

Tonight I shall try to shrink my speech in proportion to the amount by which the Bill has shrunk. That should not be too difficult because, looking back to my remarks on previous Deer Bills, I see that the minor reservations that I had before were confined to those parts that are no longer present in this Bill; and in anything that I have said previously my strongest support and encouragement has always related to the overwhelming need for some anti-poaching legislation for deer in England.

I never think that it is a very good thing to quote oneself, but as recently as 1st July, when we were debating the order relating to cutting off deers' antlers in velvet, I said in some despair, thinking of this Bill: We have tonight saved deer from having their antlers cut off while in velvet, but we are really no nearer to preventing other, arguably worse, abuses whereby they are almost daily being killed, particularly by poachers employing the most inhumane methods".—[Official Report, 1/7/80; col. 311.] I am thrilled that such a quick result has emerged to that rather despairing cry, with the appearance of the Bill in this House far sooner than I had dared hope.

I hope that there are no doubts in your Lordships' minds that a really serious evil does exist here. Perhaps I should declare a slight interest. I have a small estate in the South of Wiltshire where deer are present and I have almost day-to-day experience, and so do my neighbours, of the poaching of deer, particularly with dogs and snares, leading to very considerable cruelty. I wish the Bill the very best of luck and can assure the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that I shall do nothing to rock the boat this time.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, owing to the special circumstances surrounding the Bill I shall be brief. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for reintroducing the Bill. I admire his persistency, as I think does everyone else. I believe that it will command support from all sides of the House which will welcome its contents and its timing.

Since the last Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House there have been many suggestions inside the House and outside that a simpler Bill, embodying certain provisions upon which there was general agreement, could be introduced. This Bill will be exactly that. I welcome the legal definition of "poaching", and still more the heavy fines which will now be imposed for so doing. Up to the present day the fines for poaching have been insignificant and of no deterrent effect whatever; they could easily be paid for out of the proceeds of the sale of the deer. The new penalties proposed are heavy and, if properly enforced in the courts, will act as a deterrent.

The provisions for the sale of venison to anyone other than a licensed game dealer are welcome and will, I believe, curtail this very undesirable traffic which has been growing considerably in recent years. The similar provisions for illegally taking deer should, if properly enforced by the courts, put an end to the also very undesirable traffic on the black market. In Clause 4 the very considerable powers now given to the police to stop and search an individual are most welcome and very necessary. Also, the power now proposed to seize and detain any vehicle or weapon, or both, for the purposes of proceedings, are most salutary and should give the police ample powers to prosecute in these cases.

Although short, the Bill very effectively includes the more important clauses of the previous Bill, without those clauses which gave rise to controversy. I believe that in its present form it will deal effectively with the widespread practice of poaching, which I know has been of very real concern to landowners and to all those who value the presence of deer in these islands, and they are very many in number. Deer are part of our national heritage and wildlife. Properly managed they provide employment and interest to a great many people in these islands. They deserve protection, and this Bill will provide it. Without contention and in simple terms it provides a new basis for legislation which I believe will stand for years to come as a means of protecting deer. It now deserves to pass into law in its present form, and I very much hope without amendments. I welcome this Bill and I hope that your Lordships will give it a speedy and effective passage in its present form through all its stages, and thereby help to preserve what is, I think, in the opinion of most people, the finest example of our wildlife.


My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on his Bill and to give him my assurance that I shall in no way hinder the Bill or put forward any form of amendment. I had two small questions for him, one of which has already been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, which concerned the words: …without the consent of the owner or occupier". I felt that this might be slightly ambiguous and that an occupier may give consent when he may not have the legal power so to do However, that has already been dealt with.

The Bill is excellent in so far as it attacks where the venison goes rather than getting at the poacher, because the poacher poaches to sell. Clause 2(2) says: If any person sells or offers or exposes for sale or has in his possession for sale"— and this is the important part— or purchases or offers to purchase or receives, any venison which comes from a deer…he shall be guilty of an offence". Does that mean that hotels and restaurants may not purchase venison which has been poached? In which case, are there any penalties in this regard?

I should like to raise one other point. Clause 1(4) says: If any authorised person"— that is, a landlord or his servants— suspects with reasonable cause…he may require that person—

  1. (a) to give his full name and address; and
  2. (b) to quit that land forthwith".
In other words, he may ask for the name and address of anyone of whom he has reasonable suspicion of being a poacher.

It has already been pointed out that we are dealing with armed gangs. I am not talking of the poacher who takes a pheasant for his Sunday dinner. He is quite different; we all know how to deal with him, and that is quite another matter. I am talking about dealing with armed gangs. There is also the question: when is it poaching and when does it become armed robbery? Sir Winston Churchill once said that there is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at and missed. I do not mind admitting that I disagree with the great man. I believe that being shot at and hit is even worse—it is most unpleasant. At what time does plain poaching become armed robbery, when perhaps a return of fire can be considered? What methods may be used forcibly to arrest the gentlemen who are armed?

There is also the question of vehicles being taken away as a penalty. Therefore, we are not talking of a £500 fine; we may be talking of a £10,000 confiscation, particularly if a vehicle such as a Range Rover is involved. A landlord's servant, who is an old keeper, may suddenly find himself confronted by three or four armed men who may consider—I think unwisely—that murder is better than losing their Range Rover. It is just a thought that I put to the noble Lord.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but will he repeat that last point because I did not quite understand what he was saying about the Range Rover?


My Lords, I was merely saying that if a gang of three or four armed poachers have a Range Rover in which to take the deer away, it may be worth £10,000 or more; and if an old man, such as a gamekeeper, discovers them in the act of poaching, they may possibly commit murder rather than have their Range Rover taken away. I put that forward as a possible occurrence. The fine is a considerable fine. It does not affect the Bill; it is just a possible side effect. Apart from that, I think that the Bill is excellent and I entirely support it.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, as has been pointed out by several of your Lordships, the Bill is a truncated version of the original Bill that was brought forward. We all warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Northfield for the tenacity that he has shown in bringing this Bill through three Second Readings. We have no doubt at all that it is worth while, because although the Bill has been cut down—although it is not the same Bill as came forward originally—it still achieves a very important purpose, and it would be madness to risk the Bill simply in order to reinsert any of the various points which many of us feel perhaps ought to be in a Bill of this type. But it is so important that the Bill should go through, that I am sure we shall all agree that the Bill ought to be passed without modification.

Those of us who are not familiar—and I am one of them—with the methods of poaching that have been described are frankly horrified. The poacher is often thought of as a single figure lurking around and catching perhaps the odd salmon, perhaps a hare, perhaps a rabbit, and perhaps a pheasant. But this is not that sort of poaching at all: this is mass slaughter. It is something which is organised villainy on the most atrocious scale, and something which has nothing to do with a person taking a single creature for the family pot. It has nothing to do with that at all.

Because of that, we must all feel that this must be stamped out: that if it continues it will have irremediable effects. Therefore, I am confident that all of us in your Lordships' House will agree that this Bill ought to go through. We wish it good luck, and I hope that we shall do our best to expedite it. I once more congratulate my noble friend Lord Northfield on the way in which he has stuck to his guns and has got this Bill to the present stage. At the same time, as my noble friend Lord Northfield said, the Government and all associated with it deserve great credit for having played such an active part in enabling the Bill to reach this point.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill started its journey in another place in this Session in very much the same form that was approved by your Lordships' House towards the end of the last Session of the last Parliament. We have a great deal for which to thank the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in respect of that legislation, and, I am certain, for a great deal of the work which has been done upon the present Bill.

On the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Member for Harborough, Mr. John Farr, referred to the concern of those engaged in deer farming who were understandably anxious that their livelihood and the development of deer farms should not be hindered; and those with a legitimate scientific interest in deer who sought appropriate provision in the Bill for suitably qualified persons, in addition to vets, to undertake research on deer.

I think it is fair to say that the outcome of the discussions on those issues was the realisation that in order to make progress, the contentious issues, as they were seen by some, to which no satisfactory solutions were readily forthcoming, should be dropped from the Bill so that it could concentrate on its essential element—which has received support from all parts of your Lordships' House this evening; namely, to provide for more effective action to be taken against poachers of deer.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for his thanks to the Home Office for the help which it has been possible to give in the redrafting of the Bill. The outcome is a Bill which builds on the basic structure of the 1963 Act and strengthens the law against poachers by extending the range of offences, stiffening the penalties, and increasing the powers of arrest and forfeiture. In addition, by requiring in Clause 3 the licensed game dealers to keep records about the purchase and sale of venison, the outlets for poachers in disposing of their illegally obtained gains will be restricted.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, gave a vivid account in his speech, which has been echoed in other speeches of your Lordships and finally in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, about the poaching of deer, which has increased in recent years as the value of venison and the number of deer have risen. The Government welcome these further steps in the Bill in the greater protection to be given to deer.

The noble Lord also referred in his speech to the position of the Crown in relation to the Bill. It is the fact that neither this Bill nor the 1963 Act binds the Crown. There can be no suggestion, however, that Crown servants would be encouraged to ignore the law. It is a matter of public policy that Crown servants in their official capacity should observe the spirit and the letter of the law, even though not legally bound by it, and they will do so in this case. I am glad to have the opportunity to give this reassurance in very much the same terms that were given in writing by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to Lord Northfield in the time of the previous Government.

The noble Lord asked about the protection against the taking of antler velvet in the same way as protection is afforded by regulations made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for farm deer. This would require primary legislation, and this evening I can only say that we shall keep this matter under review. Similarly, both the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Dulverton referred to deer farming. My noble friend gave his opinion that a further look needed to be given at regulations in this respect. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the remarks made by my noble friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, also asked about the situation in Northern Ireland. I must apologise to the noble Lord that I do not have an answer for him about this. I feel that it should be confirmed to the noble Lord, and I feel sure that the Northern Ireland Office would be happy to do this in writing to the noble Lord. If it is acceptable to him I shall make sure that a letter comes to him in order to make this clear beyond any misunderstanding.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Fortescue welcomed, as the rest of your Lordships have, the penalties in this Bill for the protection of deer. He expressed the view that it would be a good thing if the general poaching laws could be brought more into line with the provisions of the Bill. I take very much the same view as my noble friend, because in common with many other noble Lords in this House I am aware of what happens with poaching. As some of your Lordships have said, it is not a case of somebody who wants something for the pot, but people who are doing it in a cruel and much more organised way. A review which my noble friend asks the Government to undertake, and which he and I have discussed on other occasions, remains as part of the programme of work for the Law Commission. Much as I should like to give my noble friend a more definite reply this evening, we really must await the conclusions of the Law Commission on that particular matter.

As I have said, the Bill is now in a much slimmer form than that which was before your Lordships' House in the last Session and that which started its journey in another place earlier in this Session. None the less, it represents a broad and well considered consensus on the essential measures which should now be taken to provide deer with additional protection from poaching. The Government believe that the Bill is a real step forward and is certainly to be welcomed. We would therefore wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in his efforts to ensure that it makes progress towards the Statute Book.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, allow me to intervene for one minute before he replies? As I introduced the original Act in this House and I have spoken on every Deer Bill here, I feel that I cannot let this occasion go without saying a few words. Like everyone else in this House I welcome this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will not hold it up in any way.

I have in my lifetime witnessed many deer that have been poached and been mutilated in the process. One of the cruelest aspects of poaching is that these ignorant louts—I can only call them that—will shoot a doe or hind which has a young calf, or they may wound the doe which may then die and make her leave the calf, and then the calf will starve to death. That is only one of the cruelties of poaching, and I have witnessed some really repulsive sights.

As have other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on his persistence in this matter; he has been like a terrier with a rat, never letting go. It is magnificent the way he has got the Bill to this stage, with the backing of the Government, and that is not an easy thing to obtain for a Private Bill. I hope my noble friend Lord Belstead will take note of what my noble friend Lord Dulverton said about deer farming and the sale of velvet. I believe I first brought this matter to the notice of the House when I tabled a Question about the sale of velvet. That, too, can result in the most appalling cruelty. At present it is not allowed, but I hope that in the near future we shall have another Bill which, apart from anything else, will bring in regulations to protect fully farmed deer. I give this Bill my heartiest welcome, especially the clause concerning the sale of venison, which will make it far more unremunerative for gang poaching.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and who have been so kind about the Bill and our persistence. It has been not just my persistence; Mr. Farr and bodies like the Deer Society have really been the motivators of the Bill, and I want the thanks of your Lordships to be conveyed to them as well. While, of course, I thank the Government, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will take back the message that we hope this is only a beginning and that the Bill will not be the end of the road on deer legislation.

The previous, longer Bill, very nearly got through. Indeed, it was blocked in the other place in the final stages of last summer only by one Member, who acted almost under a misapprehension. It had a great chance at that point in getting through totally without emasculation. Thus, there is wider agreement than perhaps he realises on a good deal on the rest of the original Bill. That is why, as the deer farmers have come forward with opposition—which may not be well-founded in particular cases; it has been doubt rather than opposition—and as their position has been clarified, we hope that in the process of clarifying their position the Government will see the need for the wider powers and measures that were in the longer Bill. Perhaps they will make it a Government Bill next time so as to clear up all the remaining points of deer legislation, particularly in England. The Government have their foot in the door, if I may put it that way, as a result of the wide consultations with the deer farmers, and I hope that will lead to the introduction of a Government Bill in which there will be room for miscellaneous provisions that go beyond deer farming and into some of the matters we have temporarily shelved in order to get this shorter Bill through.

I will try to deal with the four points that were raised. The noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Nunburnholme, asked about the words "owner or occupier" in Clause 1 and elsewhere. I understand that those words appear in other legislation concerning the protection of animals and so on, so this is nothing new and, in my view, does not create any new confusion. Why are those words necessary? Consider, for example, the Forestry Commission. The commission is growing trees on a lot of other people's land, but the owners of that land retain the shooting rights. In such a case it would be the owner of the land who must give permission for people to go on that land to shoot or take deer.

Equally, the other way round, the Forestry Commission owns a lot of land on which it is growing trees and lets out the shooting rights. In that case it might be the occupier of the land—this may be covered by another phrase in the subsection—who has the right to allow someone to come on to the land to shoot at and take deer. It is therefore essential to leave the words "owner or occupier" so as to cover the individual cases that will arise according to where the shooting rights rest. No new rights are created because the only person who can allow anyone to come on the land with a view to taking deer is the person who possesses the shooting rights in that case. The clause is drafted in this way to enable it to bite where the rights exist.


My Lords, I do not want to make heavy weather over this, and in any case there is nothing we can do about it. I accept the noble Lord's assurance, which deals with the reservation I had, but it does not actually appear in the Bill; it does not say it is the owner or occupier with shooting rights. What will happen if an occupier—say, the Forestry Commission, which was instanced by the noble Lord—who does not have the shooting rights gives the kind of permission envisaged in the Bill? Is there any reason why he should not? The statute law says he may. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me if he does not have an immediate answer. As I say, it is an academic point at this stage of the Bill, although it might be as well to clear it up.


My Lords, I can go some way to reassuring the noble Lord right now. The clause must be read as a whole. It 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 other words, the persons concerned—all of them—are covered by the word "lawful"; it is the person who has the "lawful authority" to allow that person to enter in pursuit of deer. My advice is that the word "lawful", in that context, means it is securing the clause to apply to the person who has the legal and lawful right to grant permission. If I am wrong about it or if my explanation is incomplete, I will write to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, asked about Clause 2(2) and whether an hotel, for example, which purchased deer or offered to purchase it might be caught and fined. I think the answer is, Yes, provided—as is clearly stated in the subsection—"he knows or has reason to believe" that that venison has been poached. The position is rather like that of the receiver of stolen goods. A person can be prosecuted if he knows, or has reason to believe, that the venison was poached. That is carefully set out, since paragraph (a), relating to the offence, is followed by the word "and", after which we read, (b) which he knows or has reason to believe to have been so taken or killed". So the hotel would be prosecuted if it could be proved that they knew, or had reason to believe, that the venison that they were purchasing had been poached.


My Lords, that is the way that I read it; I merely wanted confirmation.


My Lords, I cannot be very helpful on the other two points. I do not know the answer to the question as to when poaching becomes armed robbery. All I can say is that the penalties in the Bill are substantial, and probably the difference does not mean a great deal; but if I am wrong I shall gladly write to the noble Lord.

Finally, with regard to confiscation, given the fact that poaching is now so highly organised and is carried out by gangs with weapons, searchlights, Land Rovers and everything that one can think of, and given the fact also that the carcass is so valuable, it is important that full confiscation of all the weapons, vehicles and so on by the court should be possible. I must point out that it is not absolutely certain that the court will always impose such penalties; the court may impose them.

However I think it fair to say—and I accept the point that the noble Lord was making—that some people may resist even more firmly, given the high penalties now contained in the Bill. But are we not on the horns of a dilemma? If the penalties are not great enough, we shall not deter the poachers, and perhaps we have to take the risk in order to ensure that the deterrent effect is strong enough. Having thought very quickly about the point that was raised, I cannot say more at this stage, but I feel that what I have said is the basis of explanation about the penalties.

I think that I have dealt with the four detailed points. I was relieved to hear the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, say that the points that he had picked out on a previous occasion all related to clauses that have now been abandoned. That gave me at least a slight hope that I was on a good wicket in terms of not having to say too much in winding up the debate, since the noble Lord had been most penetrating in his criticisms of the Bill in its previous form.

I again wish to thank noble Lords who have so kindly both welcomed the Bill and indicated that the important thing is to pass it without amendment. I hope that in those circumstances we can now give the Bill a Second Reading—


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I take him up on one point that he mentioned earlier? He said that the British Deer Society was the main promoter of the Bill, and was behind it. The society is a charity and it is conceivable that the Charity Commissioners would think that we in the society had been acting improperly in dabbling in political affairs. Will the noble Lord accept that in fact the situation is that a number of people who probably have been members of the Deer Society have been considerably active behind the scenes in assisting him in preparing the Bill?


My Lords, I would say anything in order to help the noble Lord on this point, and if I have trespassed in regard to this matter, I readily apologise. The Deer Society was kind enough to make me an honorary member and after receiving such a great honour I should hardly wish to land it in trouble. I say to the noble Lord that members of the Deer Society concerned have inspired me in preparing the Bill and have been stalwart in helping me during the various stages of drafting and re-drafting and in mobilising support. I hope that that is a happy note upon which to end this brief debate about the Bill. I hope that we can put it on to the statute book before we adjourn for the Summer Recess.

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