HL Deb 20 October 1980 vol 413 cc1723-45

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Auckland.)

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ALPORT in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Extension of occupier's right to use firearms]:

Viscount LONG

I rise at this moment before the amendments which are to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to give your Lordships a view on how the Government stands in relation to the Bill presented by my noble friend Lord Auckland. May I also say that I shall not detain your Lordships for too long. I hope it will be helpful, however, at this stage if I indicate the Government's attitude to the Bill and to the amendments which have been tabled.

I informed the House during the Second Reading debate on 23rd July that our attitude is one of neutrality but that it is neutrality tempered with benevolence. The background to the Bill has been explained with clarity by my noble friend Lord Auckland. The purpose of the Bill is to remove an anomaly. Section 6 of the Ground Game Act 1880 provides that no person with a right to kill ground game under the Act shall use firearms for this purpose at night.


My Lords, in quoting Section 6 the noble Viscount said. "under this Act, or otherwise." Those words which follow— "or otherwise "—are important. He said, "under this Act, or otherwise".

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I wonder whether I could continue with the briefing, after which we could come back to this point?


I think that the Question should be put to the Committee before this intervention is made. Therefore I put to the Committee, first, that the Title be postponed.


If I now call Amendment No. 1, perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if the noble Lord speaks to it in general terms. This is an amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 6 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I wonder whether the noble Viscount can now continue with what he began because it has a bearing upon subsequent proceedings on clause stand part. I wonder whether it is permissible for him now to continue the statement that he began?


It is not for me to decide, but I think that this would be the right point for the noble Viscount to make his statement.

Viscount LONG

I apologise if I sprang a fast one upon the Committee. Perhaps I may now continue with what I was saying. The courts have ruled that Section 6 prohibits persons who do not own the land that they occupy from shooting ground game on the land at night, but Section 6 does not place a prohibition on the owner of the land or upon any non-occupier who has shooting rights on the land. The Bill rectifies this anomaly by giving occupiers the same rights as owners and those with shooting rights.

The anomaly in question is of some significance. It is not merely an instance of untidiness in the law. Rabbits and hares do considerable damage to crops and pasture. Night shooting is one of the principal methods of keeping their numbers down to a reasonable level. As the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, pointed out during Second Reading, the protection of crops is a matter which especially concerns occupiers. It would therefore seem desirable that they should have the same right to protect their crops. This is what the Bill sets out to do.

My noble friend Lord Auckland has already referred to the amendments which have been tabled, and I am bound to say that there are difficulties with and reasonable objections to all of them. Some of the difficulties concern points of drafting while others involve matters of substance. I will not repeat what my noble friend has said but will simply comment on two matters in particular which seem to lie behind several of the amendments.

First, there is the concern which was expressed during Second Reading that the enactment of the Bill would lead to a dangerous increase in the amount of shooting at night. I take it that it is this concern which has prompted the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, to put down an amendment which would make it unlawful for occupiers shooting ground game at night under the provisions of the Bill to use rifles and which has prompted the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to table one which would restrict them to using shotguns. I appreciate the fears of the noble Lords, but I hope that we may put them in perspective.

The shooting of ground game at night by those at present permitted to carry it out is not a new activity. As noble Lords will be aware, the police are fully acquainted with this problem. The Firearms Act 1968 imposes strict controls on the use of firearms. By this Act, chief constables are given the power to decide who should have firearms. I believe that we can have sufficient faith in the judgment of chief constables to be confident that the enactment of this Bill in an unamended form would not result in any increase in the number of undesirable persons in possession of firearms at night.

A second area of difficulty which appears to lie behind several of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, concerns the interpretation which the courts have placed upon Section 6 of the Ground Game Act. This section has been interpreted as prohibiting occupiers, but not owners or those with shooting rights, from shooting ground game at night. During Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, dealt with this interpretation at some length. He indicated that he thought that a more natural reading of Section 6 would be that it allowed no-one to shoot ground game at night. He coupled this argument with the comment that it would be a good thing if on hearing any gun shot at night there was every reason to suppose it was unlawful.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has therefore come forward with a set of amendments which appear to be directed towards allowing the shooting of ground game during daylight only. If that is his objective it does not succeed because, by repealing Section 6 of the 1880 Act, he removes entirely any provision making it an offence to shoot ground game at night with a penalty attached to it and the substitute in effect merely a declaration that it is not unlawful for occupiers of land to shoot during the day. The total effect of his amendments would therefore be to create a confused situation in which there was no express restriction of any sort on the night shooting of ground game.

Whatever views may be held about the court ruling on Section 6 we are bound to consider the matter on the basis of that interpretation and on no other. If it is generally accepted, as it was in another place, that the present anomalous position should be rectified in favour of the occupier, then the Bill as drafted gives an opportunity for this to be done. But we must be realistic about the prospects of achieving this. The Bill as presented will achieve that objective, but to tamper with it, even to the smallest degree, by way of an amendment at this stage of this Session of Parliament will effectively prevent it from reaching the statute book. The inevitable consequence of this would be to perpetuate the very anomaly which the Bill seeks to remove. This is an essential consideration which I have every confidence that your Lordships will take fully into account in your deliberations.

I have made this statement at the beginning in order to hear the arguments which are going to be presented to this Committee this evening.

7.52 p.m.


I am sure the Committee will be grateful to the noble Viscount for the statement that he has made, but before I come to deal with that and the Question, That Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill, I should like to explain for a moment why I did not move any of the amendments that I tabled to Clause 1. The noble Viscount has, of course, been at pains to deal with amendments which I have not moved. I could perhaps have spared him that trouble had the occasion occurred earlier on, because I would have to admit that the reason why I removed them all was because apparently they did not achieve the purpose that I wished, which shows how lacking I am in skill as a parliamentary draftsman.

What I aimed to do was to stand this clause on its head and find a remedy for this so-called anomaly, just the opposite to the one which the clause itself contains. There are obvious difficulties in drafting amendments to a Bill if one is trying to draft an amendment which is really a direct negative, or indeed a reversal of the purpose of the clause. However, I have overcome all that by not moving any of the amendments.

So I come to the Question before the Committee, which is that Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. I want to ban all shooting at night, and for that reason I believe that this Clause is misconceived; and I think it is wrong to extend the lawful shooting of hares and rabbits at night, on which the Ground Game Act 1880 appeared, but in the terms of Section 6, to impose a total ban. Section 6 in terms prohibited night shooting of ground game by persons having the right of killing ground game under the Act or otherwise—and those two words "or otherwise" are really key words in Section 6, but the noble Viscount did not refer to them. Anyway, the court said that the Long Title of the Act applied only to occupiers and that therefore no ban on night shooting on the part of owners of land could be construed as coming within the Act of 1880. So, by decision of the courts, owners were taken out of any belief that they were covered by the 1880 Act.

That is the anomaly which the present Clause 1 of this Bill seeks to remove; it is the anomaly created by several decisions in the courts to the effect that while owners and non-occupying holders of shooting rights were not under the prohibitions of Section 6, occupiers or tenants were. That was the anomaly. Clause 1 proposes to remedy that anomaly, not by reimposing what I think the 1880 Act intended to do, which was a total ban on night shooting of hares and rabbits. Clause 1 seeks to remedy this anomaly by opening night shooting to all.

That is not what I think your Lordships' House should be doing. Some people who are unfriendly to your Lordships' House might cynically suggest that this is the last bastion in the defence of shooting rights, not only of hares and rabbits but of pheasants and grouse as well—and indeed the last bastion of defence of hunting and fishing. It might be said that this is the House of hunting, shooting and fishing. At least that is what some people believe. It is certainly not true today, if it ever was, although in the year 1880 when the principal Act was passed it was certainly a contentious matter to propose to give to tenants shooting rights of hares and rabbits incidental to the occupation of their land and concurrently with the rights conferred upon anybody else. That was a very big step to take in 1880, and that is why it occupied the attention of both Houses for so long and why the Government had such great difficulty in getting it through. And that was a Government measure.

All sorts of arguments are used against opposition to this Bill. One is that there is an anomaly elsewhere; that there is no ban on the night shooting of pheasants, grouse or any other birds, so why then should there be such importance attached to retaining a ban on the shooting of hares and rabbits at night? It may be that in the year 1880 it was not thought necessary to protect game birds from being shot at night. There was a higher plane of sportsmanship applied to birds than to hares and rabbits. One might say they were on a higher moral plane and therefore were given more considerate treatment.

My interest in this subject was aroused a little time ago when I bought a book called The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer and published by Debrett. To prove to the Committee how elevated was the conduct of people towards the birds as distinct from the hares and the rabbits, I came across this in the book: Lord Houghton once wrote"—

Several Noble Lords

Hear, hear!


It was not I, but my forebear in the line of Houghtons. It was Lord Houghton of Great Houghton in the County of Yorkshire. He wrote: On the first of September one Sunday morn I shot a pheasant in standing corn Without a licence. Contrive who can Such a cluster of crimes against God and man. There you are. No such lofty morality applied to the shooting of hares and rabbits. But, you see, only a ruffian would shoot a sitting bird, but any sort of ruffian can go shooting hares and rabbits by day and night. Incidentally, if the then Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII, had been different in temperament and girth the probability is he would have been a huntsman and we should have been spared the orgy of shooting parties held in all the great houses of England for close on 50 years, when aristocratic nobility vied with each other on how many birds they could shoot in a day, and two noble Lords were able to compete with each other and shoot over 1,000 grouse in a day, in 14 hours. We see how conditions have changed, but I see no reason why we should not now adopt a more commonsense and commonplace attitude towards this question of shooting, and ban the lot.

I want to come to another aspect of the matter which concerns me deeply; that is, how your Lordships' House has been treated over this Bill. The noble Viscount said a few moments ago something about a view held in another place. On the Second Reading of this Bill on 23rd July, I pointed out that this Bill did not have a single moment's debate in the House of Commons: not one. It was a Private Member's Bill, given a Second Reading on the nod. The Bill then went to Committee and at the Committee stage no guidance and no comment was offered by any Minister on behalf of the Government. The Committee stage in another place lasted less than 10 minutes, and all we read in the report of the Committee stage was that the anomaly was self-evident. It was not only not self-evident; it took a lot of digging out from the records of the past and intelligent study of the Acts concerned, because there was no anomaly self-evident in the Committee stage of the Bill in another place.

Today, the noble Viscount has done the Committee the courtesy of coming to tell us the Government's point of view. It is rather late in the day, if I may say so, because last time he said the Government were neutral, as often is the case with Private Members' Bills. If I remember rightly, he did not even mention the words "with benevolence" at Committee stage; benevolence has come into it since. It was quite clear that somebody was taking an interest in this Bill in ministerial circles, because the original Bill that got through on the nod was knocked into shape between Second Reading and the Committee stage, which lasted such a short time.

I think that anything to do with the use of firearms should be the subject of a Government Bill. I certainly think that anything to do with firearms should receive a great deal more attention in another place than this Bill has indeed received. Why should it be left entirely to us? We are not a rubber stamp; we are not a doormat to be walked over, with Bills passed on the nod and with Committee stages that last only 10 minutes. The more we are under attack I think the more we ought to assert ourselves, and here is an occasion for doing so. I think if this Bill were sent back to another place, and if the Clause does not Stand Part, it will go back in a rather curious condition but at least it will give another place the opportunity of thinking about it again.

I think the word "anomaly", when one is talking about the rights of shooting, is not a word to use. There are very important considerations involved. Whenever one authorises a person to shoot, both in saying what he can shoot at and when he can do the shooting, we should remember there are too many guns around, despite control of firearms. We all know that. There are too many crimes involved in shooting. I think nothing should be done to relax the need for more stringent firearms control and for curtailing the use of them. I sincerely hope that the Committee will take the matter seriously.

In conclusion, I would invite the Committee to consider what has happened in Scotland. In Scotland they have repealed the Act of 1880 in relation to conditions in Scotland, and Section 50 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, as amended by Section 10 of the Pests Act 1954, prohibits any person from shooting ground game at night. Its provisions are not restricted to certain persons; there is a total ban in Scotland, which I think the Parliament of 1880 thought it was imposing under the Ground Game Act of 1880. When the courts decided that it was not the total banning that people thought it was, then Scotland decided to contract out of the Act of 1880. Therefore, in Scotland, as I understand it, there is a total ban on everybody on night shooting of ground game. Why then should there be any different conditions in England and Wales? Why cannot Parliament consider bringing the law of England and Wales, for once, into line with the law of Scotland? I think that is clearly called for in this situation.

There is no haste about this Bill. It is no good saying that an anomaly which has existed for 67 years must be removed in this Parliament, quickly, urgently, to legalise the shooting of hares and rabbits at night, which is going on unlawfully on a big scale. Nothing of that kind has arisen at all. I do not think we should leave Clause 1 where it is, and I urge the Government to support this course. This is an important matter of public policy and I doubt whether it is suitable for it to be the subject of a Private Member's Bill, and certainly not when it is considered under the conditions which applied to this Bill in the earlier stages, in another place. So I sincerely hope that the Committee will decide to reject the Motion that the Clause Stand Part and give another place an opportunity to consider the matter further in readiness for the next Session.


I will not take up your Lordships' time for very long. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, wants Clause 1 taken out: this has to do with night shooting. I have heard my noble friend Lord Long reading a splendid brief which he was given, quoting Acts of Parliament from here, there and everywhere. I am not approaching it from that point of view. I think the night use of firearms should be forbidden and I must say it is purely from personal experience. It is the most surprising business, when you are walking about your own small acreage at about nine o'clock at night, to suddenly get yourself translated back 30 years and to find a couple of bullets whistling past your ear which have been fired by some farmer about six or seven hundred yards away. You can allow farmers to shoot at night if you like, but, for goodness' sake! how do you tell them what their safeguards are? There is no method of doing so. They will shoot how and where they like. This clearing of hares, rabbits, et cetera, has been well conducted for years by cats and foxes. Why should we suddenly allow farmers to take their firearms out and shoot indiscriminately at night? I have had experience of what happens—at the wrong end of it—and I just do not like it. I thoroughly support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton.

I also agree with him on another plane altogether. This is one of these Bills, like so many which come to us, which are chucked into your Lordships' House at the end of a Session, having had no consideration at all. If they have had any consideration in another place, how many people were attending? I have a splendid recollection of attending the Committee stage on one Bill—the Guard Dogs Bill, to be precise—and the maximum number of Members of Parliament present in another place was seven. At the end of it some Member of Parliament said, "Well, I trust their Lordships will sort it out". We did. But it is no good just throwing it in at the end like this and expecting us to sort it out. I sincerely trust that the Committee will support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, because I think this is a thoroughly ill-considered piece of legislation.


Frequently I find myself having to rise in your Lordships' House to speak on something of which my ignorance is considerable. I took part in the Second Reading debate on this Bill and it seemed to me at the time that the Bill was a perfectly reasonable one, that it was not a Bill which was advocating some major change in our whole system of licensing but rather it was a Bill that was putting right an anomaly that had existed. I said so at the time and I still feel, especially after the very clear exposition which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, has given us, that the Bill is a perfectly reasonable one. I agree with a great deal of what my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has said.


The noble Lord is not giving me very much support, though.


To be perfectly frank, I give the noble Lord no support at all, but that does not mean I do not sympathise with a lot of what he has said. I think it might very well be desirable that there should be an absolute ban on shooting at night. But what the noble Lord proposes will not do this. It will leave the law exactly as it is.


For 67 years.


I agree, for 67 years. But I did not take part in politics in order to ensure that we never changed something which had been in existence for 67 years. On the contrary, I have felt that our purpose—certainly it is my attitude towards it—is that we look towards continuous improvement and modification. It seems to me that this anomaly is one that should be removed. The proposal that the Clause Stand Part is absolutely essential to the continuance of this Bill. If this clause does not Stand Part there is no Bill. It is unusual for us in this Committee, on the sort of evidence that has been put before us, to vote down a Bill which comes to us from the other House. I do not say that we should not vote them down. We have done so in the past, but I think that we should do it on some much more clearly defined purpose than has been put before us tonight. It seems to me that all we have had put before us tonight is, from the noble Viscount, Lord Long, a clear statement of the present position, and, from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, a very emphatic statement that he is opposed to all forms of shooting. I sympathise with him, but this is not the way of doing it.


Will the noble Lord kindly permit me? I have not said that I am against all forms of shooting. The noble Lord cannot have been listening to what I said. What I was dealing with was night shooting, and I have referred only to night shooting throughout the whole of my comments on this Bill.


I accept what the noble Lord said, but I must say that I thought he added that he would be equally opposed to all forms of shooting.


The noble Lord cannot persist in misrepresenting me. Nothing that I said justifies what he has just said to this Committee. He must not place constructions on my thoughts because I have not expressed them on the general question of shooting.


I accept absolutely what the noble Lord says and I leave it to all of us to decide what his thoughts are. I would put it in this way. It is not by opposing a clause of this type—in a Bill which has passed through the other place, which has passed Second Reading in this House—which would kill the Bill, that one gets rid of night shooting. Night shooting will remain, but for a privileged class. The purpose of this Bill is to remove the privilege and to make certain that the person who is really concerned with his property, with his farm, should be allowed to shoot. Therefore I can see no reason at all why we should not allow Clause 1 to Stand Part.


I find myself in some difficulty in speaking to this Bill but I wish to do so because it so happens that the honourable Member in another place who has brought forward this Bill represents the constituency where I live. Naturally I should like to support his Bill, but it is rather a difficult Bill to support completely because what it is doing is spreading night shooting to an alarming extent. I have done a certain amount of this night shooting, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, might well agree with me when I say that it is rather a cruel form of shooting, whether it is done by X, Y or Z, a landlord or a tenant. I can well remember going out not many years ago with a Landrover and shooting about 65 rabbits. It is a very good way of getting rid of rabbits if they are there, but a number of rabbits get away because they go outside the sphere of the light of the vehicle. Therefore there are a lot of wounded rabbits. To this extent I certainly go along with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in what he has said. If I may interpose between the two noble Lords on the opposite Front Bench, it was quite clear to me in what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he was in favour of shooting by day and not in favour of shooting by night. I think that it is very important to make that clear.

It appears to me that the protagonists on this subject, or the organisations, who have made their views clear, happen to be not always in the same lobby, as it were, because the British Field Sports Society and the League Against Cruel Sports are not, I think, in favour of this Bill. They may be against the Bill for different reasons, but it is certainly an historic occasion that they should be against a particular Bill.

What worries me about the Bill, and the reason I do not think that we should at this moment vote in favour of the question, whether the clause shall stand part, is that first, in my view, night shooting of any sort is cruel and, secondly, I believe—and I note that there is an amendment down in the name of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard—that it is quite wrong that rifles should be used after dark. They are extremely dangerous and I would no more think of using a rifle after dark than flying to the moon. Anyone who does so must be a highly successful rifle shot, or always have the happiness of living in hilly country.

I also question whether hares should be included. It is true that in some areas they are a pest, but nothing like the pest of rabbits, particularly from the forestry angle. We want to look also at the attitude of the local police to this matter. At present, anyone who has any common sense who is going out to shoot after dark informs the local police, otherwise they may think that there is some form of invasion or some trouble. But if everyone is to have permission it will be extremely difficult for an owner of ground to refuse a tenant permission—he will be considered considerably snotty if he does so. I think that there will be an almost unlicensed permission for people who farm ground—and no doubt their sons, nephews, cousins, indeed, any one who is staying—to go out and shoot. It seems to me that this private Bill—and I commend it for this reason—has opened up the whole question of whether or not we should shoot after dark. I for one—and, as I say, I may have been a miscreant in the past—believe that we should not do so.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, about Scotland is also very good. Why does Scotland not want to do it? The reason why Scotland does not want to do it is that Scotland has a great deal more common sense than some of us in England and Wales.


As the mover of the Bill it might be convenient to the Committee if I were to make a few observations at this stage. I have listened with great interest particularly to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who has spoken with his usual erudition and has made some interesting comments. First, I should like to reiterate what I and others said on Second Reading about the constitutional proprieties or otherwise of the Bill. It is, of course, true that in the other place it received very little debate. But, as I pointed out on Second Reading, it was considered in full Standing Committee at 10.30 in the morning and not at five o'clock in the morning as does happen in another place on some Bills. Therefore, it was quite open to anyone on that Committee to give his view, particularly as it was—as are all Standing Committees in the other place, so far as I am aware—an all-party committee. So I do not, with respect, feel that the attitude of the other place either to this Bill or the Bill which we discussed previously where similar observations were made, is really quite germane to the question which we are considering.

I have been shooting rabbits since I was eight years old, although, let me add, that I do not shoot rabbits at night. But, with modern equipment, the shooting of rabbits at night by qualified people is not as dangerous as I think some people have made it out to be. Of course, the law regarding firearms at present is not entirely satisfactory, because anybody can get hold of a gun. Whether this Bill stands or falls, it will not make one iota of difference as to whether an unscrupulous person can get hold of a gun or any other firearm and shoot rabbits or anything else at night or at any other time. Obviously no person with any common sense—and I think that people with firearms generally speaking do have common sense—would shoot rabbits on a foggy night. But were they to do so on a clear moonlit night with proper equipment, as I have said, I do not think that there is nearly as much danger as some people think.

The other point that I should like to make concerns the present menace of the rabbit and, indeed, hare population, because, as I understand it, hares are designated as pests by the agricultural experts. But I would agree with my noble friend that rabbits constitute the greatest menace. Rabbit clearance is not undertaken with a Treasury grant. I know that my honourable friend the Member for Brecon who moved this Bill in the other place, himself represents a farming constituency. As I understand it, farmers are extremely worried about the recurrence of these rabbits. If there is no Treasury grant for rabbit clearance, I think that it stands to reason that the use of shotguns must take place.

I do not think that anyone on this Committee or anyone else would condone shooting rabbits at night. But I believe that there are times when it is both necessary and desirable. My noble friend Lord Long has already given a detailed exposition of this amendment, but for reasons already given I would hope that the noble Lord will not seek to press his amendment.


Before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell us who he considers to be a qualified person"? Secondly, would he at a later stage consider taking out "rifles"? I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard was not present to move the relevant amendment, but I ask my noble friend whether he would consider that.


A person with a gun licence is normally a qualified person. There may be reasons for tightening up on gun licences, but there are severe penalties, as I understand it, for not having a gun licence or a firearms certificate. So I think that that in itself would obviate that difficulty. On the question of rifles, I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will have something to add when Clause 3 is dealt with. However, there are here problems of enforcement.


I apologise for intervening for a moment or two more. In reply to my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench, who has expressed a point of view which I hope he will claim to be his own and not that of the official Opposition in your Lordships' Committee, it is true that to delete Clause 1 from the Bill would send it back to another place in a ridiculous condition, and in all the circumstances I would not wish to divide the Committee on whether or not Clause 1 should stand part. Nevertheless, I hope that between now and the subsequent stages of the Bill noble Lords will give further thought to this intricate and difficult matter which, I admit, is not free from prejudice or from controversy of people whose goodwill I think we in your Lordships' Committee all value.

However, I think that the opportunity for this Committee to decide whether all in all it thinks it is being properly treated and whether the Bill is justified in all the circumstances now, should come at the final stage of the Bill. Then I certainly hope to muster enough support to reject this Bill, for I believe that that is our plain duty, and I have not heard anything which suggests that this clause has received proper consideration in another place. Nor have we in this House been able to give it all the attention we would wish. In the circumstances, due to the seriousness of the matter, I think that noble Lords should give further thought to this before we come to the final stages of the Bill.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

8.33 p.m.

Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert— (""Firearms" means a sporting gun for the discharge of a single cartridge containing small lead pellets.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8. On Second Reading of the Bill the view was expressed from all sides of the House that "firearms" should be defined to exclude rifles. The Act of 1880 does not define "firearms"; nor does this Bill. It can be suggested that to define "firearms" in this Bill and not to define "firearms" in the original Act would create another anomaly. As anomalies are the obsession of some people, no matter whether they are great or small, anomalies must be removed—sometimes by the easiest method. However, I agree that another anomaly would be created if we had a definition of "firearms" in the Bill and not one in the original Act of 1880.

But what are we to do? We are extending the use of firearms, and surely we should give consideration to the sort of firearms we are permitting to be used. I believe that there is some criticism of this amateur definition of a "firearm" which I have set out in the amendment. Reference has been made to the Firearms Act 1968, which suggests that one could have a smooth bore gun with a barrel not less than 24 inches in length, not being an airgun.

I do not mind if we can incorporate in the Bill something which will exclude the lawful use of rifles for night shooting. I believe that there is more danger in night shooting especially if rifles are to be used, than some noble Lords seem to think. I believe that it would be a very good thing in this country if anyone shooting at night was, prima facie, acting unlawfully; otherwise there could be a bang within a matter of yards of one's own house at night and the pretext could be that the people concerned were shooting rabbits, but the truth of the matter would be that they were after badgers. More people are accosted for getting rid of badgers, either by shooting or otherwise, who claim that they are after rabbits or foxes, than I believe represents the truth of the matter.

I think that people are entitled to be protected against undue risk, and at night rifles are dangerous. How do you know who is using them? How do you know where the shooting comes from? What chance do you have of obtaining any remedy against serious wounding on such occasions? At least during the hours of daylight there is an opportunity to see someone running around and to find out whether any people are at large in the woods, the hedges or the fields. But at night what chance does one stand?

Shotguns themselves are dangerous when they are sawn off to use for holding up banks or post offices, for shooting people working for Securicor and other protective organisations. Therefore, I sincerely hope that the Committee will look favourably on an attempt to define "firearms". If not, then I hope that the sponsor of the Bill will be prepared to say that he will look at this between now and the subsequent stages of the Bill.


Once again I must agree with the noble Lord. I think that the use of rifles at night is absolutely wrong. One cannot tell who is using them. For the noble Lord to say that only qualified persons can use them is quite unrealistic in the country. During the holiday period the sons of farmers take the guns which they find in their fathers' houses, and those include 22 rifles. I told your Lordships earlier that I was at the receiving end of some shots, which surprised me very considerably, but I could not tell who had fired them. I could tell roughly where the shots came from and I had a good idea as to who had fired them but there was no method of proving it. The use of rifles at night is absolutely wrong, and I trust that the mover of the Bill will reconsider it and, at a later stage, allow us to prohibit the use of rifles once and for all.


I should like to support what has been said. I think that this ban should extend to everybody. Of course, that is not in the Bill, but I quite agree with what my noble friend has said. The indiscriminate use of rifles is of great concern to the police. Let us face it, nobody has spoken much tonight about the point of view of the police, but it is a very difficult one. In my experience it is a fact that a good number of people use firearms who really have no experience of them and they are extremely dangerous, not only to others but to themselves. As to the rifle and its use at night, I very much hope that the mover of the Bill will seek to talk to his honourable friend and indeed my Member of Parliament in another place, to try to get the Bill amended to omit the use of rifles at night.


I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. In point of fact, we are on Clause 2. As I understand it, rifles come within another amendment. My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard who is not in his place will, I am sure, undertake to enter into discussions with my noble friend the Minister due to the feeling on this matter.

The law about possessing a rifle is severe and definite. The penalties imposed upon those in unlawful possession of rifles are dire. For example, a person under the age of 14 years is not permitted to possess a rifle. That is surely common sense. A person under 17 years of age cannot purchase or hire a rifle. It is primarily youngsters who are most likely to go around with rifles at night. Certainly no one can countenance that taking place. If it were and if those responsible were caught, I for one would advocate the severest penalties.

If one had to check every gun or every firearm appertaining to the amendment, the police would have an impossible job. I believe that I am right in saying—I shall be corrected if I am not—that chief constables already have a great deal of discretion in inspecting firearms. A single barrelled gun or a double barrelled gun in the wrong hands can do equal damage. In either case the barrel or barrels can be sawn off.

If the amendment were allowed to stand, it would not, in my submission, in one iota decrease the number of those who now have sawn-off shotguns. It is true that there have been some horrible murders committed with sawn-off shotguns. It is open to question whether the Bill will have the menacing effect that, with respect, some of your Lordships appear to think.


The mover of the Bill has not said whether he would consider banning rifles for use at a later stage so that we might consider it. He must come down to the ground on this issue. It is fine in this place to talk about people shooting at night. However, out in the country it is probable that one policeman has to cover 30 or 40 square miles. How is he going to stop a boy "swiping" a rifle at night from his father—for example, a 22—and going out and shooting? The locals can lay a complaint against him and them something can be done, but we cannot rely on the police. The police are paralysed in enforcement, as in so many Acts of Parliament. I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider this business and that we shall have a banning of rifles at night.


Almost everything that has been said indicates how ill-conceived the Bill is. There has been an anomaly for 67 years and we are now dealing with it as if nothing had happened during that time and as if conditions merely required this so-called anomaly to be removed. This is quite a silly way of dealing with this important subject. It shows how better advised the Government would be to urge that the Bill should be taken back for further consideration.

We cannot amend the Bill without creating further anomalies. That is because the principal Act of 1880 applies to different people in different circumstances. It is a minor shambles and yet we are being asked to deal with this simple single point of removing the anomaly. There are many things concerning shooting that require reconsideration, as I have tried to point out. It is not merely a matter of removing an anomaly that has been created by the courts and not by Parliament. It is now a matter of considering the whole subject rather more comprehensively and with greater understanding of all the implications of so doing.

The Government started off by being neutral. They have become neutral with benevolence. They are now, if I may say so, stuck on the Government Front Bench unable to help the Committee with the further arguments and considerations that have arisen. I feel sorry for the noble Lord. He had a brief that assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, had spoken. It assumed that I had moved amendments that I had not moved. Altogether, he had an obsolete brief in his hands from the word go. In those circumstances, I think that the Government Front Bench's attitude is deplorable in regard to the Bill.

The Government have said nothing in another place; they have said not a word. When Second Reading is taken in this place, there is merely a brief intervention to say that they are neutral, as is the Government's habit on Private Members'

Bills. We then get an intervention. We now get no help at all. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, is stuck with the Bill and does not feel able to make any concessions. We are coming to the end of the Session. Cannot we have some commonsense and understanding bought to bear in a serious debate in which constructive and well thought-out criticisms have already been made?


If the noble Lord is right in thinking that the Government Front Bench is neutral, it appears to me that there are probably more in your Lordships' Chamber who are prepared to vote for the amendment on rifles. Before the noble Lord sits down, will he make it clear that he will take us into the Lobby on this issue. I think that it is quite an important matter.


Yes. I hope that the Committee will divide on the amendment. It is clearcut and everybody can understand the nature of its implications.

Viscount LONG

I should like to have a word with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He said that on Second Reading the Government were neutral. The noble Lord now tells us that the Government are benevolent. Which side and which slice of the cake does the noble Lord want? In this Committee he has been given expert advice all round. It is a technical subject. We cannot throw licences, rifles, experts and chief constables into the middle of the Chamber and hope that at a moment's notice we shall get the right answer. It is a difficult problem. The noble Lord must realise that I sat in my place and listened with great interest to what he said. However, I did not find out what he is aiming at.

8.49 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 14; Not-Contents, 9.

Boardman, L. Gibson-Watt, L. Peart, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hale, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Chelwood, L. Hampton, L. Seear, B.
de Clifford, L. [Teller.] Houghton of Sowerby, L. [Teller.] Winstanley, L.
George-Brown, L. Inglewood, L.
Auckland, L. [Teller.] Denham, L. Monson, L.
Avon, E. Drumalbyn, L. Orr-Ewing, L. [Teller.]
Belstead, L. Long, V. Sandys, L.

As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 54 I declare the Question not decided, and pursuant to that Standing Order the House will now resume.

House resumed.