HL Deb 23 July 1980 vol 412 cc482-99

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It was given a Second Reading in the other place in June of this year by my honourable friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor in a very short time—an even shorter time than the Bill moved by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. But this in no way should be taken as suggesting that the other place did not consider the Bill very carefully, because it was considered mid-week at half-past ten in the morning by Standing Committee "C" which represented all the main political parties.

The fact that this Bill is going to have a rather longer discussion in this House should not be regretted; far from it. As my noble friend Lord Long has reminded us, we are a revising Chamber and it is right that Private Members' legislation, just as much as perhaps more controversial public legislation, should have proper revision. Before I turn to the clauses of this very brief and, I hope, non-controversial Bill, perhaps I may say what the Bill does not seek to do, in case there is any misapprehension that this is a Bill which will unleash a lot of irresponsible people with shotguns, going round the countryside killing rabbits and hares. It does nothing of the kind. Clause 3 of the Bill, which enables the Bill to become law three months after receiving Royal Assent, does this so that the farmers, police and other authorities are fully acquainted and thoroughly informed as to the Bill's contents. It does not allow anybody to use firearms, whether he or she be an owner-occupier or tenant, without a firearms certificate; in other words, there is no question of the law being bent in any way.

Clause I of the Bill, as amended, seeks to make an amendment to Section 6 of the 1880 Ground Game Act. Under that Act, the owner alone was permitted to use firearms on the land which he owned. Under the new Bill, subject to certain conditions which are embodied in the Bill for consultation, the owner-occupier and the tenant will be permitted to use firearms at all times. But, as I said just now, they will have to be used in concurrence with the present law. I should like to make just one or two general comments on this Bill. Many of your Lordships will have shot rabbits and hares—I have shot a number myself during my lifetime—and the alternatives to shooting are, to put it mildly, rather horrible. Among them are trapping, gassing, snaring and possibly the use of ferrets. There is no doubt—I think this is accepted both by those who condone blood spots and by those who in all sincerity do not believe in them—that shooting is the most humane means. The rabbit menace, as the Farmers' Weekly for July 1979 reminds us, has one sinister overtone to it, namely, the possible return of myxomatosis. Any of your Lordships—and I imagine that many of you will have done so—who have seen a rabbit in the final stages of myxomatosis, will know what a dreadful and disgusting sight it is.

This Bill seeks to enable a landlord, an owner-occupier and a tenant at all hours to shoot rabbits, provided of course that he or she has a valid licence and meets all the requirements which are necessary under the present law. It is interesting to note that there is no restriction on any other game so far as night shooting is concerned, and properly carried out, there seems to he no reason why it should not apply to rabbits.

The other important point to bear in mind, in justification for the very small amendment being made by this Bill, is the damage which is done by rabbits and hares. One has only to see a field of corn or an allotment, which has been carefully tended, stripped by rabbits to know the damage that can be done. There is no doubt that the rabbit and hare population must he kept down. As I understand it, this Bill has the support of all the farming communities and the National Farmers' Union and, so far as I am aware—certainly there has been no protest to myself—the conservation societies. It is, of course, essential that any killing of rabbits or any other game, whether on the ground or in the air, is properly controlled and carried out humanely.

I do not wish to comment at this stage on the amendment which has been put down to the Bill, except to say that it is a very unusual procedure in your Lordships' House to put down an amendment of the kind which is normally reserved for the other place, although of course any noble Lord is entitled to do this. But I shall make no further observation on that point at this stage. I shall listen carefully, as I am sure your Lordships will, to the debate as it continues. But I hope at this stage that I have given sufficient information as to the intention behind the Bill for your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

7.52 p.m.

Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and insert at the end ("this day six months").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has just said that it is unusual for an amendment of this kind to be put down to Bills which are before your Lordships' House for a Second Reading. I think that is so, but this is an unusual Bill and I want to refer to its history to show how unusual it is.

It is a deceptively short Bill. As the noble Lord has said, it was introduced in another place by Mr. Tom Hooson, the Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnor, a year ago on 27th June 1979. This Bill was given a Second Reading in another place without debate; it is customarily called "on the nod". It then waited in a long queue to get to Standing Committee in another place, and it arrived there on the 18th of last month. As the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has just said, the Standing Cornmittee met at half-past ten. I am not sure whether I heard him say that it had finished its proceedings by twenty-six minutes to eleven. The Committee stage in Standing Committee lasted four minutes.

What happened in those four minutes is rather interesting. Mr. Hooson, in moving an amended Clause 1 of the Bill, said: The merits of the Bill are self-evident. The 1880 Ground Game Act was intended to help farmers to deal with ground game pests. But that Act is inconsistent because it discriminates between owner-occupiers and tenants in respect of night shooting. The purpose of the clause, as amended, is to ensure that discrimination no longer exists between the rights of owners and those of tenants"—

and the record says,

"Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill".

This was very brief.

I must confess that, when I looked at the Bill and the proceedings in Standing Committee nothing was really self-evident to me. So I did a great deal of research and I found that this Bill rests upon the principal Act, which was passed on 9th September 1880. It was originally called the Rabbits and Hares Bill. It was a Government measure and it had to do with the use of firearms. It had to do with who was entitled lawfully to use the gun. I submit to your Lordships that any extension of the field of use of firearms, at night especially, requires the most careful consideration and I think that it ought to receive the consideration of the Government.

The 1880 Bill was a very controversial one. I looked up the proceedings at that time. It came before the House of Commons in the summer of 1880, and the debates lasted so long that numerous attempts were made by the Government to adjourn the debates, and sometimes to adjourn the House. I noticed that on one day in particular, 29th July 1880, three attempts were made by the Government to adjourn the debate and they were defeated every time. It was only on the fourth occasion that the Motion to adjourn the debate was agreed to.

What is really quite surprising is the "big guns" who came into this discussion in the House of Commons in 1880. Mr. Gladstone took a hand; so did Sir William Harcourt—who is alleged to have said, "We're all socialists now ", but not on that occasion—and Lord John Manners. All came in to try to persuade a troublesome House of Commons to adjourn the debate and meet another day. But the House refused and the majorities against the Government were quite substantial. So this Bill in 1880 had quite a troubled time.

The Bill of 1880 that eventually reached the statute book said, in Clause 1: Every occupier of land shall have, as incident to and inseparable from his occupation of the land, the right to kill and take ground game thereon, concurrently with any other person who may be entitled to kill and take ground game on the same land".

This was really the emancipation of the tenant who, in many cases, was not allowed the shooting rights on land that he occupied. Your Lordships might say that the Bill was a tenants' shooting charter.

I am indebted to Mr. Hooson for an admirable brief on this and other matters, which he sent to me this morning. I only wish that, instead of allowing the Committee stage to last four minutes, he had made it last 54 minutes and had put all this on the record. Then, I think we should all have been much better informed as to what the Bill is about, and would have been able to form an opinion on its merits and on whether it should proceed in your Lordships' House.

We can hardly be reassured as to the merits of a Bill that the House of Commons has debated for not a single minute on the Floor of the House and for only four minutes in Standing Committee. Either they were mesmerised by its simplicity or some hidden persuasion was brought to bear upon them to which I have not succumbed. I quote from the brief: The Act of 1880 altered the common law in two ways in particular. Firstly, it gave to owner-occupiers the right to take ground game even where they had granted game rights to another person. Secondly, it gave tenants the right to take ground game even where the owner of the land had reserved the game rights to himself, or had granted them to some person other than the tenant".

This explains clearly that the Bill was a tenants' shooting charter.

Having given the occupier of the land general rights of shooting for rabbits and hares, the Act of 1880 then imposed some restrictions. They related inter alia to the shooting of ground game at night. I say "inter alia" because Section 6 of the 1880 Act imposed restrictions upon the use of spring traps and poison as means of destroying rabbits and hares. But those matters are not in the Bill which is before your Lordships' House. The Bill before us is confined to shooting. It does not extend any rights of using spring traps, still less of using poison, which are dealt with by other and subsequent legislation. The Bill is confined to the right to shoot at night and nothing else, and "night" is set out in Section 6 of the Act as being between the hour before sunset and the hour after sunrise. That is "night".

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misstated it by accident. It is the hour after sunset and the hour before sunrise, is it not?


My Lords, we can get it absolutely right. Section 6, which is vital to what I now come to, says that no person having a right of killing ground game under the Act, or otherwise, shall use any firearms for the purpose of killing ground game between the expiration of the first hour after sunset and the commencement of the last hour before sunrise. I am sorry that I did not get it right; it just shows how complex this simple little Bill can be. I will not read the remainder of Section 6 because it deals with spring traps and poison and has nothing to do with shooting.

It is from the construction of those words in Section 6 that the mischief has arisen. The Act of 1880 contains words which I thought bore their normal meaning. However, not being a lawyer, I was deceived. I thought that when Section 6 said "no person" it meant "no person" and that when it said, no person having a right of killing ground game under the Act, or otherwise", it meant that in any other wise under the Act, or whatever the source from which the right to shoot was granted to him, he was under the conditions imposed by Section 6. That is what I thought, but in his brief Mr. Hooson has disabused me, because he brings to my notice a very important judgment in the King's Bench Division in 1913, 67 years ago.

The whole point of the Bill rests not upon the words of Section 6 of the Act of 1880 but upon the construction given by the court to the words in Section 6 of that Act. It is curious that not a word was said about this in another place during the Committee stage of the Bill. It seems to me that this is most important. A case which came before the King's Bench Division in 1913—Leworthy v. Rees, 1913, 109, LT, 244—has a most important bearing upon our debate. I quote now from The Times Law Report of 18th April 1913, page 408, volume 29, 1912–13. This case which came before the courts in 1913 did not relate to the shooting part of Section 6 but to the spring traps part of that section.

Under Section 6 spring traps had to be placed in rabbit holes, but these spring traps were placed outside rabbit holes. That is why the case arose. On the face of it, they were unlawful. Mr. Justice Ridley said, and I quote from the report: Section 6 only applied to the case of occupiers of land and persons who were authorised by the occupier". Mr. Justice Ridley thought that the words "or otherwise" in Section 6 ought to be read as having reference to Section 2. I must say that that puzzled me, but since Mr. Justice Pickford and Mr. Justice Avory delivered judgments to the same effect one must suppose that there was weight in their opinion. Mr. Justice Avory, who had a reputation later for being a very hard judge, was in 1913 as much against rabbits as in subsequent years he was against culprits. There is a story told in the memoirs of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that when Mr. Justice Avory sentenced a man of 82 to 15 years' imprisonment, he said, "Oh, my Lord, I'll never be able to do 15 years", to which Mr. Justice Avory replied, "Well then, do as much as you can." He was one of those associated with this judgment.

The alleged inconsistency of the Act of 1880 is therefore that the restrictions on night shooting in Section 5 do not apply to owner-occupiers or to those taking ground game under their authority, both of whom can shoot at night, whereas the tenant who acquired shooting rights by virtue of Section 1 of the 1880 Act, and only he, is under the restrictions of Section 6. Therefore I submit that the Bill before us becomes clearer now—at least I hope so—and that we can see that it removes the anomaly by conferring upon tenants who acquire rights under the Act of 1880 the same exemption from the restrictions under Section 6 as the judgment in Leworthy v. Rees gave to owner-occupiers.

The Bill therefore extends the right of night shooting. Is that what we want to do? The Bill will almost nullify altogether the restrictions of Section 6 on night shooting. Is that what we want to do? This situation has existed, anomaly and all, for 67 years. It may be that the anniversary year of the 1880 Act is the time to do something about it, but what is the pressure, my Lords, to rectify any anomaly under the 1880 Act, when this has existed for 67 years apparently without causing anybody any serious difficulty? I will come in a moment to whether it is because we have a lot more rabbits or whether we have more rabbits today than we had in 1913. I think we have to consider carefully whether we amend the statute law to comply with the judgment in the King's Bench Division in 1913 in order to extend the area of night shooting.

So I now come closer to my conclusion because the question before your Lordships' House, when all the technicalities of the Acts and the Bill have been gone through, is this: Do we want to extend the facilities for people to use firearms at night? I have this information—and again I owe this to Mr. Hooson's brief; and I am very grateful to him, and when he reads the Official Report I hope he will not think that I have been misusing the information that he has given me, for my case rather than for his. But a brief is a brief and I have made of it the best that I can. I think probably the anomaly that we ought to be dealing with is the fact that he mentions; namely, that there is no law against shooting any other game at night and it is only in regard to ground game that this restriction applied.

I want to suggest to your Lordships that poaching is usually done at night. I would also suggest that crime by shooting is usually done at night, or at least a good deal of it is done at night. Would it not be a good thing if, on hearing a gunshot during the night, we had every reason to presuppose that it was unlawful? Only a few days ago we were discussing the poaching of deer. In a newspaper last week there was a long article on the ravages of poaching, which neither the law nor people seem to be able to do very much about. I do not think that we ought to give more people the right to use the gun at night.

If it is contended that there are so many rabbits now that modern means of rabbit clearance are unsuccessful and that we need to go shooting at night in order to keep down the rabbit population, let us hear the arguments. It may be that the rabbit has returned in disturbing numbers in some parts of the country. I do not deny that. There are, however, rabbit clearance schemes, although I understand that many of them have been faltering for years. What about resuscitating them if that is what we need to do?

I have a home in the country and I keep a pretty close tag on the wildlife around me. Happily I have far more badgers than rabbits and I am very fond of them, but I would not like people to be wandering round my part of Surrey with a gun at night, with licence to shoot anything while my badgers are around and foraging —and foxes, too. Do we have to be more lax in the use of firearms than was intended in 1880? Is that the proposition? Are there not more effective and humane ways of killing rabbits than going out at night and taking potshots at them, or organising a rabbit shoot at night, with people probably not in a condition to shoot straight at anything?

Why was the restriction put in the 1880 Act at all and why was the judgment of Mr. Justice Ridley so much at variance with the intentions of Section 6? Again I am indebted to Mr. Hooson for giving me the answer. He said: The legislative history of this section is unclear. It was introduced as a clause in the House of Commons at the Report stage of the Bill and was merely given a passing mention by the Bill's sponsor, who was the Home Secretary". The Home Secretary—it was not a Private Member's Bill then and I have said that the Home Secretary was Sir William Harcourt, to whose name all those on the Liberal Benches ought to give due obeisance. But in the House of Lords, Lord Kimberley—not the present noble Lord whom we love so well, but one of his ancestors, presumably; and I quote from Hansard, Third Series, Volume 256, col. 811—said this. The clause had been placed in the Bill as a concession to the Opposition in the other Rouse. It was desired that there should be a prohibition as to using firearms at night and on the understanding that the clause should be made general it was inserted in the Bill and he (Lord Kimberley) did not think that their Lordships would desire that an owner should have the right to shoot at night and the tenant not to have that right. So the Bill deprived the owner of the right to shoot at night and in 1913 the judgment of the court was that the owner-occupier had the right to shoot at night, and therefore created the anomaly as between owner and tenant.

I hope we are not more in favour of using firearms at night than we were one hundred years ago for any reason that is not imperative and pressing and irresistible. Surely we have different ways of dealing with this problem today as against one hundred years ago.

So, what am Ito do? What are noble Lords to do? With the greatest respect, I submit that this is not the way to pass Acts of Parliament. It is not and it should not be. We are entitled to know what Bills are about and should not have to wait until the Second Reading for that; those who are not here will not know and those who are here may have had some difficulty in following the complexity of the argument. This is not the way. I know that this Bill could pass into law by going through your Lordships' House in all stages in the time remaining to us in this Session. I think that would be wrong, my Lords. I do not think the House of Commons can expect us to do it. I suggest that the Government should deal with firearms and guns and shooting, and they should not be dealt with in Private Members' Bills, even though there is a plausible case for it on the grounds of pest control.

So my amendment gives all those concerned a little time in which to consider the matter further; and if they wish to pursue it, then let us have the Bill in another Session, with proper discussion in another place. Let it be fully explained, and let it come to your Lordships' House as other Bills do, with some kind of record and pedigree behind it so that we know what sort of horse we are asked to back. I beg to move my amendment.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and insert at the end ("this day six months").—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)


My Lords, I should like to bring one small point to your Lordships' attention in regard to the accuracy and the dangers of shooting at night. Shooting at night is dangerous and it is against the law and basically has always been so. The police do not like it, landlords do not like it, the public do not like it, gamekeepers do not like it; none of us likes it. It does encourage poaching. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has said that this is not a Bill which gives a licence to anybody to go and shoot at night, but I would take issue with him on that. When shooting at night is allowed practically anywhere by any tenant farmer or tenant or occupier there will be a great deal of it going on. Most occupiers, particularly farmers, are generally armed with very deadly weapons, which are themselves dangerous.

There is one other point about which I am not quite certain, which is whether it will be legal to shoot with a shotgun and a rifle or only with a shotgun. The shooting of shotguns at night is dangerous enough, but a rifle is extremely so. I know for a fact that the police are not in favour of people going around at night armed with a shotgun, for very obvious reasons. For these reasons I am not in favour of this Bill. I think it is dangerous.

8.22 p.m.


My Lords, it has been very interesting to hear the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He takes such an interest in the animal kingdom that we all respect what he has to say and we realise that he speaks with a profundity of knowledge and a kindliness which are extremely important. This Bill, which is a small Bill, is a Bill to amend the Act of 1880, an Act which was entitled: An Act for the better protection of occupiers of land against injury to their crops from ground game". It is quite important to remember what the purpose of that Act was. It was not a matter of indiscriminate shooting; it was a matter of controlling ground game on the lands which were being cultivated.

My Lords, we all of us have an affection from childhood times for rabbits. I suppose every one of us when young had a rabbit or two rabbits—and if you have two rabbits you certainly have more than two—in order to amuse ourselves. I expect many of your Lordships will remember the verse which went: A rabbit has a charming face, Its private life is a disgrace. I scarcely dare to name to you The awful things that rabbits do. Things that your paper never prints: One only mentions them in hints. They have such lost degraded souls No wonder they inhabit holes. Where such depravity is found It only can live underground". The rabbit remains as something of a token of affection to all of us, but we also have to bear in mind that the rabbit does do a lot of damage and that consequently rabbits have to be controlled.

This particular Bill we have before us today is a Bill to permit the occupier of land—that is, the person who is growing crops—to shoot the rabbit at any time of the day or night. Under the present law the owner of the land alone is allowed to shoot at night, not the occupier. But the owner is not really the person who is especially concerned with the problem of protecting crops; it is the occupier. And the purpose of this Bill is to allow the occupier the same right as the owner has. Whether we pass the Bill or not the owner still has the same right; he can shoot at night, but it is the occupier who cannot.

My Lords, I personally would agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme has said, and what my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has said; I would like to stop shooting at night. But whether we pass this Bill or not shooting at night will go on. This Bill does not suddenly open the floodgates for shooting at night. What it does is to give the same right to the occupier as the owner has. I can see no logical reason for refusing this. If we want to look further into the whole problem of shooting, then we must do it in another way, not just by passing or not passing this Bill.

Further, I would say with regard to this Bill that it is a custom of your Lordships' House to allow Bills like this to have a Second Reading. If at Committee stage suggestions are made, such suggestions can come forward and be considered; if at Report Stage further suggestions are wanted they can come forward. But it is usual for a Bill of this sort, especially one which has passed through the other place, to pass your Lordships' House at Second Reading. Therefore, I would feel, speaking for the Opposition, reluctant to oppose a Second Reading for this Bill.

8.29 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, first may I thank my noble friend Lord Auckland and congratulate him on bringing this important Bill to your Lordships' House? I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for drawing attention to "sunset" and "sundown", which is Greenwich time, because I think the times have changed since the Act and we have to have a different timing.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, said. I remember I had two rabbits, and within a short time I had two or three hundred rabbits. They breed like rabbits! Very fast indeed.

I think this is the moment for me to speak to your Lordships on the Government's feeling during the Second Reading of this Bill. This is a modest measure of only three clauses which, in the words of the Long Title, seeks to extend the right of an occupier under the Ground Game Act 1880 to use firearms for the purpose of protecting crops against damage from rabbits and hares". My noble friend Lord Auckland has explained the provisions of the clause and I propose to confine my speech to some brief general comments on the Bill which I trust will be helpful to your Lordships.

I turn briefly to the 1880 Act, which enables the occupiers of agricultural land to protect their crops from damage and loss from ground game, which covers both hares and rabbits. An occupying owner, tenant or sub-tenant is an occupier for the purpose of the Act. The Act gives the occupier the right to kill ground game on his land concurrently with any other person who may have that right; for example, the owner who is not in occupation; and, subject to limitations stipulated in the Act, the occupier may authorise other persons to exercise his right.

By Section 6 of the 1880 Act, however, the use of firearms is prohibited at night, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has mentioned in his amendment. That is between the expiration of the first hour after sunset and the commencement of the last hour before sunrise. The prohibition has been interpreted by the courts as not applying to an owner of the land, whether or not he is in occupation, or to others not in occupation who are authorised by the owner to kill ground game. It is this inconsistency between, on the one hand, the right of an owner to protect his crops against damage by rabbits and hares by using firearms for this purpose at night, and, on the other hand, the absence of such a right of a tenant farmer, that the Bill seeks to remedy.

The Bill seeks to make it lawful for the occupier of land to use firearms at night in those periods of the year when he may otherwise lawfully use firearms. It would not allow any persons other than the occupier to benefit from this concession. Nor would the occupier's right be extended to those persons who, under the 1880 Act, may be authorised by him to act on his behalf, because the Bill is primarily aimed to afford protection to smallholders against damage to their crops, and it is considered that they would be able to shoot ground game on their land at night without having to rely on some other person to do it for them. I think it was my noble friend Lord Nunburnholme who asked whether the Bill would authorise the use of rifles as well as of shotguns. The answer to my noble friend is that it would cover both, because they are boths firearms. The Government have considered the appropriateness of applying this measure only to England and Wales rather than to the whole of the United Kingdom, to which the 1880 Act applies. We agree that there is good reason for the exclusion from its provisions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned in his amendment, the Bill was piloted very quickly, perhaps too quickly for him, through another place—but, nevertheless, it was successfully brought through to your Lordships' House—by my right honourable friend Mr. Tom Hooson, to whom we gave some help at the Standing Committee stage with drafting amendments to tidy up some technical points. It appears to me that there are now one or two rather technical points that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, wishes to apply to this Bill. I should like to say just a little more on that in a moment. The Bill before your Lordships' House for consideration is therefore in a form which secured broad support in another place, and to which there is no technical objection. None the less, it is a Private Member's Bill and not a Government measure, and while we would not wish to hamper in any way its continued passage, our attitude is one of neutrality.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, remarked at the end of his speech that he would not like to see any Private Member's Bill, or any Bill, being thrown out on Second Reading unless it could not possibly be helped. He referred to the fact that it would be far better to take a Bill that comes from another place through all its stages in your Lordships' House and so correct all the faults of the particular piece of legislation. I would ask the House to remember that we very seldom reject a Commons Private Bill. We have not done so since 1945; I think that is the timing. On the whole, most of these have certainly concerned matters of greater substance, and I think the example I want to give here is the abolition of the death penalty. The noble Lord did mention that this was an unusual Bill and an important Bill, but I would ask him to be kind to the House tonight. I would ask him if he would consider it as important as the death penalty Bill. I would ask him if he could not possibly think of withdrawing his amendment so that the Government could have another look during the Committee stage, and, indeed, the Report stage, at some of the worries he has on board. Otherwise, I have nothing further to say, but I hope that your Lordships have paid attention to the fact that we must be careful how we handle our procedures; otherwise we shall lose sight of some of the good stuff we can do in your Lordships' House.


Before the noble Viscount sits down, may I remind him that he said there were good reasons as to why this should not apply to Scotland? With all due respect, I did not hear a single reason, and I am dying to be enlightened about it.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, the noble Lord has caught me on that one. I will write to him, but I have a feeling that there has already been some such legislation. I do apologise if he feels hurt in any way, but I understand there has been some legislation on the subject.


My Lords, nobody could argue that this Bill has not had a very good airing in your Lordships' House this evening. I would not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes on this second day of summer —which is just about what it is. But perhaps I may reply briefly to one or two of the observations made. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is deeply respected in both Houses of Parliament as a master of procedure. He has held many high offices, and his remarks are always listened to with respect. But I cannot help thinking that a rather over-digested meal has been made of this measure. The main argument seems to centre around night shooting. Obviously night shooting must be controlled and I think that it would be unwise to lose the Bill, because, after all, the 1880 Act is 100 years old and since then many new technical devices have been introduced for shooting rabbits and other ground game. It can be done more lethally.

Night-shooting, properly carried out, can be done far less dangerously than was the case in 1880. But, I go some of the way with my noble friend Lord Nunburnholme on the question of night shooting, unless it is absolutely necessary. I should not like to see—and I do not think that any of your Lordships would like to see—completely uncontrolled night-shooting. I do not believe that if the Bill becomes law we shall have uncontrolled night shooting. All that the Bill does is to enable rabbits and hares to be brought in line with other game.

My noble friend Lord Nunburnholme referred to the question of rifles. I think that this is something which the Government would do well to consider. Having done quite a lot of rifle-shooting myself, I agree with him that there could, especially in built up areas, be some danger, particularly with a rifle above the.22 Hornet mechanism, of which there are a number on the market. Rifles are potentially far more dangerous in their range than shotguns. But I cannot envisage rabbits or hares being shot at night with rifles. Anyway, I think that that is a most unlikely occurence—it is far more likely to be shotguns.

As regards the Committee stage in the other place—and I point out that there are certain rules of procedure about referring to the other place—I should like to repeat what I said in my opening speech: it was quite incumbent upon any Member of that all-party Committee to question any part of the Bill. There have been a number of Private Members' Bills which have gone through the other place and which have been fully debated. I think that your Lordships would agree—I have not been a Member of the other place, but I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for over 20 years—that the other place does not, particularly when hours of daylight are involved, allow measures through which have an element of undue controversy about them.

I do not accept that this Bill will be a haven for the thug who takes a shotgun out for the purpose of murder, which I think has been hinted at. Under the present legislation we have recently had some particularly foul murders carried out with shotguns, which we all condemn. There may well be every reason for the Government to have a look, and a very serious look, at firearms' regulations, particularly as they apply to shotguns. I believe that the Home Office has that very much in mind. Certainly, I would ask my noble friend to bear the matter very carefully in mind.

I do not think that this particular Bill will do any damage at all as regards the indiscriminate use of shotguns. I think that they will be used with discretion. The Bill corrects an anomaly which was very outdated. I believe that it should go on the statute book and that in due course—and I hope sooner rather than later—the Government will have a more comprehensive look at the whole question of firearms, because that is what your Lordships' House, the other place and the country need.

Having said that and bearing in mind that there are further stages to the Bill, if needed, it may well be—and I hope that the Bill will get on the statute book—that the Bill will need tidying up. But, at this stage, for the reasons which my noble friend and I have put forward—and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, for his erudite and thoughtful speech—I would urge your Lordships' House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the comments that have been made on what I said to your Lordships earlier. The noble Viscount, Lord Long, says that the Government's position on the Bill is neutral. What a shameful thing for a member of a Government, who are neutral on hardly anything affecting public life today, to say; with a Prime Minister who is scarcely neutral about a single item in our affairs; yet the noble Viscount says that the Government are neutral.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, very often during a Private Member's Bill the Government are neutral. The noble Lord will remember that it happened in his day. It has happened in the past.


My Lords, there is no excuse for it—I let the matter pass at that. I think that one ought to have a point of view. The Government have a responsibility. They have not expressed it before and I think that it is a great pity that they do not have better advice to give the House. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said that the Act of 1880 was, after all, 100 years old. But shooting at night in 1880 was just the same as shooting in 1980—it is just shooting and it is at night. So really I do not think that there is anything in that argument. But, more especially, when a Bill is dealing with firearms and the use of firearms which, as the noble Viscount says, appears to include rifles as well as shotguns, we must bear in mind that there is a great deal more shooting going on in the community today than there was in 1880. Those are important matters.

However, thinking it over in the course of the debate I have come to the conclusion that a Chamber which contains only 10 noble Lords on both sides of the House is scarcely in a fit condition to do anything except what it usually does, and that is to allow Bills that come up from another place to have an unopposed second reading. That is about the only decent thing that your Lordships' House can do in the present circumstances. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, with the promise that the Committee stage of this Bill will last a little longer than it did in another place.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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