HL Deb 07 April 1982 vol 429 cc254-7

1.21 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I have it command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Glenarthur

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

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time. —(Lord Glenarthur.)

On Question, Bill read a third time.

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, I think it might be appropriate if I were to say a few words before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House, albeit, I think, temporarily. Perhaps I ought to start by stating the obvious in some respects by saying that, like many similar Bills on wildlife, this one has generated a considerable amount of discussion both in your Lordships' House and outside it. Any 15-page Bill which has 125 amendments at Committee and a further 45 at Report, plus, of course, the two we should have had this afternoon at Third Reading, is bound to attract attention and to raise eyebrows a little, not least, I fear, among those who manage our business here, particularly my noble friend the Chief Whip, who has, I know, been a little concerned about the Bill's progress but certainly more than tolerant.

I do not think that the Bill as it came to your Lordships' House was a bad Bill, or certainly as bad a Bill as some had made out. It was a consensus view; a set of compromises to bring the 1959 Deer Act up to date; to deal with poaching more effectively; to adopt recommendations of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House and to assist those individuals and agencies who need to be allowed to control deer which do damage. But, of course, its passage through your Lordships' House has highlighted areas in which it was weak or defective, and many very significant improvements have been made to the Bill.

This is thanks to the very valuable contributions of many noble Lords, with their special and intimate knowledge of the practical aspects of deer and subjects related to them. So to that extent I think its time here has amply demonstrated the value, not only of the parliamentary process in fine tuning specialist legislation such as this but also of the role of your Lordships' House, with the expertise and knowledge of specialised matters which are available within it.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was kind enough to say at Second Reading that he hoped I would still look young and well when we got to the end of the Bill. Sadly he is not here to say one way or the other, but he might like to know when he reads the Official Report that I feel only a little part-worn but certainly filled with a lot more experience, even if some of it says to me, "Never take on a Bill about animals again, at least so readily".

Seriously, I am sure that all those who have an interest in the subject will feel that the Bill hugely improves the 1959 Deer Act in many respects. It is a very significant advance in the war against poaching—there is no doubt about that—which is a matter long overdue for revision. It serves the interests of deer forest proprietors; it does not trample on the longstanding rights of crofters or tenant farmers in a way which is unacceptable to them; and despite the critical comment it has provoked in the media, it provides the Forestry Commission and the other commercial forestry interests with an ultimate sanction against deer doing damage to forestry, although I very much hope that the provisions on night shooting will be exceptional in their use, and I am in fact totally confident that this will be the case.

I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides and in all corners of the House for the interest that they have shown and for the advice which they have given to me and to others concerned with the Bill, not only in this Chamber but in the very many discussions we have had outside it. I hope that I have not been thought intransigent in any views that I have expressed in trying to walk what has been something of a tightrope between the various interests involved. I should also like to pay a very special tribute to all those in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, who did so much work in the consultative process and, indeed, have done since; the Red Deer Commission; the Forestry Commission; the Lord Advocate's Department, and the parliamentary draftsmen for their enormous help and encouragement to me personally in sponsoring this Bill. Without their tireless help and sense of humour I think I really might have aged; I just hope that none of them has.

Lastly, I must thank most sincerely my noble friend Lord Mansfield for giving me the opportunity to sponsor this Bill through your Lordships' House. As I have implied, there have been times when I wondered whether I was entirely wise to take it on, but on balance I have enjoyed it. It has been a fascinating, thoroughly worth while and certainly very educative process, and I am more than grateful for the opportunity given to me to do it. I expect that we shall see the Bill again in the summer, after another place has had a look at it, so I do not think I can very well say goodbye to it. Nevertheless, I wish it well in the capable hands in which it will be in another place, and with that I beg to move.

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

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I think the information on the annunciator was delayed and so I was a little late, but may I say this—I hope I am not out of order.

Several noble Lords


The Lord Chancellor

It may be my fault, but it is sometimes not easy to see what is going on.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is quite right in suggesting it is not always easy to see what is happening. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Glenarthur on the way he has handled this Bill, but I should like to say, with due respect to him, that I do not think it is in the interests of the deer proprietors. I abhor the idea of night shooting. I very much doubt whether this Bill will be passed in another place; I do not think it will be. This is, without doubt, a Bill for the Scottish National Farmers' Union and the Forestry Commission, and I think we all know that.

If the noble Lord will give me just a moment, I should like to say before I sit down that I know the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, says I am always telling him stories, but I will tell him another, just a short one. My grandfather went out to America to try to help the Red Indians—that is beside the point—but he told me that he was held up in a train (I think other people have also had that experience) for five or six hours by the buffalo migrating north, and that within 15 years there was not a buffalo to be seen. I am not saying that this will happen to red deer in Scotland, but I have just come down from Scotland and your Lordships will be surprised at the amount of dead deer, dead calves, after this very bad winter, and a lot more deer will still die, thousands and thousands in the spring, when the new grass comes. But as I have already said I doubt whether this Bill w ill get past another place.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I should not like to be so depressing as the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I do not think this Bill is one just for the NFU and the Forestry Commission. I think the battle has been between those who own deer forests and those who get the depredations from deer. I think that if the Bill does something to help those people—because I can assure your Lordships that the depredations are very large indeed—then I hope it will, not only the private owners of forests but the Forestry Commission itself. I hope this Bill does go through the other place.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I want to say a word on this Bill on behalf of the Government, although I too am anxious to proceed to the next business. I want to pay a tribute, first of all, to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur for his competence in mastering the technical intricacies of the legislation and to pay tribute to the mixture of firmness and charm which he has displayed as he piloted the Bill through the House. I have been full of admiration for that. Unlike my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, I think that this is a most useful and worthwhile Bill. It has the fullest support of the Government. It was the subject of most extensive consultation and thought before the proposals were put into legislative form. It is an anti-poaching, anti-cruelty Bill—and I want to emphasise the last phrase. Most of its provisions seek to limit or to control the shooting of deer whether by day or by night, in or out of the close season, and, above all, to curb the trade in poaching which is abhorrent to us all.

It was a great disappointment to read in the Sunday Times that the Bill is condemned by the RSPCA and the British Deer Society and others because, it is alleged, it extends the right to shoot at night. It is worthwhile saying for the record that the Bill does nothing of the sort. It very considerably narrows the existing right to shoot at night. Occupiers in person will he able to shoot only sika and red deer at night, and even then they must be prepared if necessary, to show that their action was necessary to prevent serious damage. The right to shoot at night may be delegated but only under strictest conditions and with the specific authoritisation of the Red Deer Commission according to a code of conduct which will be drawn up by the commission.

If this Bill (if I may use the word) dies—and I said at Second Reading that Private Members' Bills of this kind are tender plants; and that is so—we shall go straight back to the 1959 position where the occupier of land in Scotland will be able to shoot marauding deer at any hour of the day or night for 12 months of the year. I counsel anybody who bothers to read the provisions of this Bill to compare what is in the Bill with what is in the 1959 Act. I am saddened that any organisation should wish, let alone to threaten, to kill the Bill in another place; but that is the prerogative of those who are there. But I think that such a course would be welcome to the poaching fraternity and to those few farmers and crofters who exploit the presence of deer on their ground. I trust that those concerned with the welfare of animals will study the Bill and, like your Lordships' House, come to the conclusion that it deserves unqualified support.

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