HL Deb 10 July 1985 vol 466 cc248-59

6.48 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 3rd June be approved. This order is brought forward under Section 23A of The Deer (Scotland) Act 1959, which gives the Secretary of State power to regulate the classes of firearms, ammunition and other equipment which may be used in Scotland for killing deer.

I should like first to say a word about consultation. The Act requires that consultation with interested bodies must take place before any order is made. This requirement has been fulfilled and our proposals have been subjected to the most extensive consultations; three full rounds were undertaken and, following the withdrawal from Parliament of a previous draft, further comprehensive discussions have been held. The subject is complex and the many different views received were all strongly and sincerely held. Naturally, we were not able to accept all the points made. However, substantial and significant changes were made to the original draft and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who took the time and trouble to respond. We are grateful to the Red Deer Commission, on whose advice we relied most strongly, and I am bound also to mention the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. Your Lordship's House is noted for its erudition in unlikely subjects and, so far as the subject of firearms for use against deer is concerned, I can confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has indeed upheld this reputation. We were particularly grateful to receive his views on necessary controls for shotguns. Long consultations are not always a good thing, but I believe a shorter timescale in this instance would have resulted in a less satisfactory compromise between the various interests and, consequently, a poorer order.

With your Lordship's permission, I shall go on to say a word about the order and the changes it introduces. The only lawful way to kill deer in Scotland (except to prevent suffering) is by shooting, but aside from the general restrictions of the Firearms Act of 1968, no control over weapons or ammunition used extists. This deficiency was recognised in 1982 when an order-making power was inserted into the 1959 Act. The purpose of the order now before your Lordships is to ensure that in future only guns capable of making a humane kill in a wide range of conditions may be used, and, also, to help combat poaching.

The main provisions of the order concern rifles and shotguns. With regard to rifles, the order allows the use of a rifle which is capable of firing ammunition of a given specification. Defining standards for ammunition rather than simply specifying rifle calibre is, of course, a most convenient and technically satisfactory means of setting out which guns should properly be used. Without compromising our overriding objective of achieving humane killing, we have sought in every case to set standards for ammunition which will allow suitable weapons currently in greatest use to continue to be so used, and to avoid, as far as possible, shooters having to change a basically satisfactory weapon or load because it falls marginally short of the new regulations.

It has been possible to allow lower minimum specifications for roe deer than for other deer. This reflects the lower bodyweight of this smaller species. In practice, this means the 222/50 grain centre fire bullet will continue in use. This is important because rifles firing this bullet are now widely used in forest control, where roe has become a serious pest. For other types of deer, the formula allows bullets of .243 calibre or greater.

I should perhaps say a little more about the "tripartite" formula set out in Article 3 of the order. The formula sets minimum values for bullet weight, muzzle velocity and muzzle energy, all of which must be satisfied before ammunition qualifies as lawful. The Red Deer Commission first suggested this useful and original approach, and the formula has been widely welcomed. Furthermore, we have been assured from many quarters that it is unlikely to give rise to difficulty or confusion. All the criteria are easily available in the manufacturer's literature and are frequently specified on boxes in which ammunition is purchased, and in cases of difficulty I have no doubt whatsoever that firearms dealers will be only too happy to assist. However, these will not be the only sources of assistance. The Red Deer Commission is shortly to issue a code of practice on firearms which will explain these matters simply and clearly.

As I have said, the provisions about rifles have been widely welcomed. The provisions concerning shotguns and ammunition, though more straightforward, are, nevertheless, also more controversial. I am, of course, aware of strongly-held views that the shotgun should be banned altogether; that it is not an appropriate weapon for use against deer; and that an absolute ban would not only reduce cruelty but help prevent poaching. These are strong arguments and deserve consideration. But there is another point of view. The shotgun is a weapon traditionally used for crop protection by farmers and crofters for whom it is often the only weapon available to protect crops. There are other circusmtances where the shotgun may be needed; perhaps crops needing protection are close to habitation, where a high velocity rifle could not be used safely.

Complete reconciliation of these issues cannot be achieved, but we have attempted in the order to include a realistic compromise. The shotgun is retained, but its use is limited, first, as to circumstances, and, secondly, as to ammunition, and it is confined to specified persons. A shotgun may be used only where an occupier has good grounds for believing that serious damage will be caused to crops on agricultural land or in enclosed woodland. We have now harmonised the crop protection provisions in Scottish deer legislation.

For the avoidance of doubt, I confirm that the use of the slaughtering instrument using ammunition intended for it will continue. Also, your Lordships will have noticed ordinary sights, including normal telescopic sights, are authorised under Article 5(b), but special sighting devices for night shooting are not.

Finally, I should like to mention the position of semi-automatic weapons. These are, of course, permitted at the present time but are not, I understand, widely used. Nevertheless, these weapons have shown some promise as efficient and effective instruments to control deer in woodland situations. I can assure the House, however, that we intend carefully to monitor the use of the weapon, and if evidence of abuse or unnecessary suffering comes to light we shall not hesitate to consider how the statutory provision might be changed.

The commencement date of the order is to be 21st October 1985. This marks the beginning of the open season for female deer of all species and the start of the close season for roebucks and stags of red and sika deer and their hybrids. It is thus a sensible and convenient date. The Government's intentions have been known for well over a year, and I believe the shooting fraternity will be well able to comply with the new provisions.

I have given a specific assurance about the monitoring of semi-automatic weapons but I am aware that there may be other parts of the order which we shall need to watch closely. This is the first Scottish deer legislation regulating firearms. The Red Deer Commission has kindly agreed to advise the Secretary of State on its effectiveness in the coming years and to tell him whether and when a review might be necessary. I am confident that the order achieves a balance between interests, and is reasonable and fair. It has been widely welcomed as a significant advance in Scottish deer legislation, and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd June be approved. [24th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Caithness.)

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I am very grateful indeed for the kind remarks of the noble Earl about my own contribution to this issue, and I shall say a little more about that in a moment. In the meantime, I express my very warm thanks for his kindness.

It is little to our credit as an animal-loving country that until this order comes into operation later this year deer in Scotland may be shot—or more likely shot at—with any type of firearm: rim-fire .22s, and even air rifles. That is a monstrous situation. It is a black mark on our national reputation. However, thankfully, with this order that will become past history. We now have the order, and it is to be welcomed unreservedly. The provisions dealing with rifles cut new ground, and, if I may say so, they do so most competently. Those who have devised the terms are very much to be congratulated. The ballistic requirements should now exclude unsuitable rounds and thus unsuitable weapons, and ensure, as far as we can, effective, clean and humane killing. That, surely, should be our primary aim.

However, main attention is focused on the issue of shotguns. It hardly needs to be repeated in your Lordships' House that a large body of informed opinion—people who know about deer and who know a great deal about the control of deer and the culling of deer—is unswervingly opposed to shotguns. It is widely hoped that the day is not too distant now when the shotgun will be prohibited as a deer weapon throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope that we are steadily on the way to that situation by means of the first step taken in this order. In Europe our rating in this matter is not high. We are almost the only country which still allows the use of the shotgun against an animal of this size.

In the meantime, as I have said, as a first step the use of the shotgun must be subject to stringent conditions. The noble Earl mentioned a previous draft of this order about which I should like to say a few words. The draft which appeared before the House some eight months ago contradicted, if not the stated wishes certainly the understanding of Parliament, and also of the overwhelming mass of those who were consulted. Mildly but firmly I must protest at the lengths to which I had to go in order to get the previous defective draft order withdrawn in late 1984. I gave notice that I would be fairly tough about this matter as long ago as 21st June 1982, when I said that an order would be coming and that we would all have to be quite deliberate in opposing it if it were defective.

With the invaluable advice of my adviser Mr. John Hodgkiss, an eminent member of the British Deer Society, who is known to many members of your Lordships' House and who has been of invaluable assistance to this House in redrafting deer legislation in recent years, I pointed out the defects of that first draft order to the Scottish Office. In the end I had no alternative but to put on the Order Paper a Motion for rejection of that draft, and I had to seek the help of authoritative officers of the House in pointing out how defective it was. It used words and phrases which were not in the parent Act, making open-ended the circumstances in which a shotgun could be used against marauding deer. It gave an absurdly wide definition, not found anywhere in the Act, of persons authorised to take and kill with shotguns.

The wording in the parent Act had been hammered out over a long period and in great detail, and it should not have been departed from in this way. That is water under the bridge but I want to put it on the record so that on future orders greater care will be taken over this kind of drafting. It would have saved a lot of us a lot of time if that greater care had been taken with the first draft.

7 p.m.

In parentheses, perhaps I may say how unsatisfactory it is that over recent decades our examination of subordinate legislation in general has become so relatively perfunctory in both Chambers compared with 30 years ago. I was then a Member of the other Chamber and we used to debate it on the Floor of the House. Now in the other place it goes to a committee where the examination is quite perfunctory. It may be that some day this Chamber ought to take up this issue and see whether we cannot do better work on subordinate legislation. That is a wider issue. I mention it only in parentheses, and I leave it.

To return to that first draft which was before the House some months ago, I said that the conditions in it regulating the use of shotguns were unacceptably permissive. They were virtually unenforceable, too. They would have provided—and I hope that the department will take note of this—ready-made loopholes for deer poachers. On all counts that was a slightly unsatisfactory chapter in this matter. But we can rejoice that we have the new draft order before your Lordships this evening, and it fully takes care of these objections.

The noble Earl mentioned self-loading weapons. I probably would part company with him on this. At least I would raise the question: are they really acceptable? Do we really want stalkers going out on the hill armed with what one might call semiautomatics? There are noble Lords in this Chamber with more experience than I have on that matter, and I shall be interested to hear their views. In the meantime, I merely put a big question mark over the issue.

The order is clear now about the shotgun and the circumstances. As a previous critic of the old draft, I want finally to say how fully I support the amended proposals, and indeed the whole of the order now before us. I add a postscript. An order of this kind is only as good as its enforcement. I have had cause in recent weeks to write to the Scottish Office about the way the courts in Scotland are handling poaching cases and are not dealing with them seriously enough to deter.

Similarly on this matter, if the police and the courts do not enforce this order our deliberations this evening will have been no more than a paper exercise. I suggest therefore that it would be appropriate if we sent out a message from your Lordships' House to those who look after these matters in Scotland, asking them to please see that this order at least is fully enforced. A great deal of cruelty could be cured by this order if that enforcement is deliberate, and if we take great care to see that everybody knows its provisions. I repeat my thanks to the noble Earl for his kind remarks and wish this order godspeed and great effectiveness in the coming years.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about this order since I introduced the original Act in this House regarding the close season for deer in England and Wales, and I have always taken part in deer legislation regarding Scotland. I agree with the noble Lord opposite that the shotgun ought to have been phased out a long time ago. It has only been kept there owing to pressure from the farmers' unions—the NFU, and the Scottish NFU. It is a disgrace. It is difficult to kill a deer with a shotgun. You nearly always wound it or blind it. The other thing with which I cannot agree in this order is that self-loading rifles are allowed; that should never be so.

Regarding poaching, perhaps I may say that the allowing of self-loading weapons and shotguns is of assistance to poachers. The poaching is still deplorable, especially in the western Highlands. Not so long ago there were in my area four young men I know very well. They are always being had up for poaching. They usually only get a fine, but of course the social security pays their fine.

The other day four of them went out on the hill. I say, "the other day"; that would be in January. They shot four young stags, and they were caught. They had not got firearms certificates for their rifles. They had no insurance on their van. I am not sure about the tax. I am glad to say that they got four months. They had been in jail once or twice before, but nothing seems to deter them because they are usually fined. They come out of court and cock a snook at the police and just laugh, and of course the welfare state pays their fines.

A month or two ago we had a welfare officer come to the area, and the welfare officer told the police not to harass these young, underprivileged, poor people. These underprivileged people have nice council houses, nice cars, and they have a nice motor-boat. What annoyed me further was that they stole the propeller off my motor-boat and they have it on theirs. But there you are; it is difficult to prove.

I think I have spoken enough. I welcome this order. It is a step in the right direction, but we must do away with the shotgun for deer. It is quite unknown on the Continent. I also deplore the inclusion of automatic weapons, self-loading weapons, in this order.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in Scottish legislation, but often what happens up there comes to us, and vice versa, as I think the noble Lord will remember. I understand the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield—or at least I should do, as I have heard enough of them—and indeed of my noble friend Lord Massereene, but deer are pests. They are very serious pests. My noble friend Lord Massereene shakes his head. Come and see them with me down in the south of England. They are grossly overstocked, and they are increasing at a vast rate. I know that I am talking about the south, but these regulations will come there in the end. They are there at the moment. At times deer need severe culling. The culling in my district is something like 100 per cent. below what would be satisfactory. That is not my figure; it is that of the Forestry Commission and indeed all the other organisations round me.

I therefore welcome my noble friend Lord Caithness's remarks about the need for the shotgun in order for farmers to cull deer. It is the only weapon that we can reasonably use in these circumstances. It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, shaking his head. He knows it as well as I do. He does not want me going around with a rifle.

Here I come to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and my noble friend Lord Massereene. The noble Lord quotes Europe against us. Thank God we are not Europe; we are Britain. One of the things we have in this country is rights of way, and people walking across those rights of way. If my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, like shooting up and killing courting couples, that is up to them. I frankly have a certain doubt about doing it, and that is one of the reasons the shotgun, certainly in England, is a much safer weapon. I hope that this will remain so.

There was one point that my noble friend Lord Caithness did not mention so far as the use of the shotgun is concerned. I have personally found it a remarkably good threat to use against organisations such as the Deer Society who will not cull to the extent that they should. It is a perfectly legitimate country fashion to threaten people if you cannot get them to do it. You say, "If you are not going to shoot these deer correctly, as we do in my area, with your rifle, then we shall use the shotgun." It is a remarkably effective threat and the result is that they are shot with a rifle and, thank God, I have never had to shoot one with a shotgun.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us whether he has made an attempt to ask the Deer Society to do the culling for him because I should be surprised if they had not taken up his request?

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I said before that we have people on our farms (and we combine with a whole series round us, including the Forestry Commission) who are authorised to shoot with rifles. They are members of the Deer Society. I regret to say that the cull is something like 100 per cent. wrong.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, with leave of the House, the noble Lord is speaking of roe deer; I was more interested in red deer. When he says that they are pests, roe deer on one's arable land can be pests if the land is not fenced properly. But I have a place down here and I have fallow deer; I have no trouble from them. The red deer in the Highlands is a tremendous earner of foreign currency from stalking tenants. The export of venison to Germany alone is worth £2 million. When my noble friend speaks of deer being a pest, with due respect I could say a lot of things but I will not. I do not agree with him.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I am not sure whether it is in order for one to make two speeches, but we are in a good mood and have plenty of time for the noble Lord to have two bites at the cherry.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said that deer were a pest and there was a lot of head-shaking by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, and by my noble friend behind me. I know this is Scottish legislation, but the same situation occurs in this part of the world. I farm between Epping Forest and here and I have seen as many as 18 fallow deer in a field of wheat. They can be pests with a vengeance: there is not much doubt about that. I farm near the hills in East Scotland and have seen huge herds. When I say "huge" I mean literally hundreds in bad weather coming down and clearing up a field of turnips overnight. So to suggest that they cannot be pests is ludicrous.

The main purpose of this order is to prevent cruelty. There is an amazing amount of cruelty in the wrong use of shotguns, and using the wrong ammunition in a rifle does not stop the animals with the first shot. I should like to say something about the banning of the shot-gun. As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, generally speaking the only weapon most farmers have is a shot-gun. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, mentioned that. The trouble is that such a variety of ammunition can be used in a shot-gun Generally speaking, the ammunition that is mentioned in the order is not available. The NFU probably would wish to satisfy everybody and would publish in some sort of communication to farmers these provisions about the use of shot-guns and the size of ammunition available so that farmers do not break the law. If I had seen 18 deer and the only shot I had was No. 6 I should have been tempted to use it. As it happens, my foreman is a very good shot. We bought him a rifle and we use a rifle to dispose of any deer that are harming crops. But it is an expensive business to buy a rifle and not everybody can use it properly. I have seen some very accurate shooting in my Home Guard days with shots of up to 100 yards and even more. It is not good for the gun, nevertheless it can be done and it would he a pity if it were banned altogether. Like my noble friend, Lord Northfield, I think that the enforcement and the monitoring of this is one way to ensure that there is no misuse of a shot-gun. As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, he thought that a compromise had been brought into this order and I agree with him.

7.15 p.m.

On self-loading weapons, when I was in the Forestry Commission many of our rangers told me that a self-loading or semi-self-loading weapon was of tremendous help in stalking deer. I am no roe deer stalker myself although I have stalked once or twice; I only needed one shot I should like to say so I did not need a self-loading rifle; but the rangers impressed on me that it was of great help in stalking deer to have a self-loading rifle. I have seen an article written on the arguments for it and I should perhaps mention that.

This order will do a great deal to satisfy people who were worried about the wrong use of shot-guns, as my noble friend Lord Northfield said, and the monitoring and enforcement is essential. We give the order our blessing.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this order because it is a great step forward for Scotland. I have no connection with Scotland myself because I come from another part of the Celtic fringe. Nevertheless, this order is to be welcomed. I welcome it with certain minor reservations. An order, as we know, cannot be amended and our convention is that we do not reject one, either. The order lays down certain minimum requirements in the weight of the bullet, the muzzle velocity and the muzzle energy. I gather that these were worked out on the basis of advice given by the Red Deer Commission. It is desirable that the order should specify certain minimum standards, allowing a wide range of weapons covering all calibres in common use. But there are certain calibres still widely used, although they are of some age now. They might be regarded by some people as almost obsolete or old-fashioned, but they are still widely used, popular, effective and are capable of killing a deer humanely, although they might fall marginally short of one or other of the requirements laid down in this order. I hope that it is not the Government's intention to outlaw these weapons, which, although elderly, are still widely used and still effective.

A problem that I see is that of verification, of checking on the muzzle velocity and muzzle energy of a cartridge. Commercially manufactured ammunition has its weight printed on the package so it is there for all to see. But it does not give the muzzle velocity because that is subject to certain variables. It can vary from one rifle to another according to the conditions under which it is fired. One can only say with regard to a given cartridge that its muzzle velocity would probably fall within certain brackets. One cannot say what it is exactly without firing the weapon and measuring the velocity with a chronograph.

Apart from commercial ammunition, some shooters for economic reasons choose to hand-load their ammunition. There one can only verify the ballistics of that by firing it and measuring the velocity. It is not an easy process, and one cannot expect the average policeman, if he comes across someone carrying a rifle and ammunition, to say, "Show me the ammunition you are using!"—and then to be able to tell instantly whether or not that ammunition will fall within the requirements laid down in this order. It is necessary to take a sample of the ammunition, to break it down by pulling the bullet and weighing the bullet and then firing the rest of the sample over a chronograph; and the facilities for that are not in every village police station. I rather wonder where and in how many places are there facilities available for carrying out tests of this sort.

We have also talked quite a lot about shotguns. I do not like the use of a shotgun on deer because, for it to be effective, you have to strike a balance between the striking energy of the pellets, which of course varies with their size, and the density of the pattern, which also varies with the size of the pellets. If you use larger pellets which will strike a harder blow, then you get a much thinner pattern and you might not hit a vital part of the animal. Shotguns also have a very limited range and it is a great temptation to shoot at something too far away, especially with a shotgun. We very often hear of cases of wounded animals dying what is sometimes a lingering death.

The rifle is still the most effective weapon. With regard to the safety of a rifle, if I were shooting on land which was crossed by a public footpath I should know better than to shoot in the direction of the public footpath. If a person is responsible enough to be granted a firearms certificate to enable him to use a rifle, he should be reckoned to be responsible enough to use that rifle safely.

The present legislation on rifled weapons is a hindrance to their possession for lawful purposes and it is really the only justification for continuing to permit the use of shotguns. If legislation was less restrictive so as to make it easier for responsible persons to own rifles for deer control, then perhaps one could say goodbye to the shotgun for that purpose. With those comments, I wish this order a fair wind.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, I shall be very brief as I see people looking around and looking forward to other business. I do not hesitate to intervene in a Scottish matter, particularly being a veteran of a number of Lord Northfield's debates on deer in the past, when the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in particular, had no hesitation in coming down here and telling us how to run deer matters in England. I should like to support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has said other than that I have no experience of his defective draft that made him cross.

Despite the reservations of my noble kinsman Lord Swansea and declaring some interest as a director of a gun-making company, I welcome the, I thought, very sensible formula for deciding the size of rifle bullet that can be used. I think that it is an advance on merely putting in the calibre, which was the method that we used in the past. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's answer to my noble kinsman's technical questions on some of the more obscure calibres.

On shotguns, I, too, look forward to the day when only rifles are allowed. I accept that we are not going to get it today or anything like it, but some of us will go on hoping and pressing for it in due course. I believe that rifles can be safely used by sensible people and, by definition, those with firearms certificates should be sensible people. I have one suggestion for the Minister on the subject of shotgun cartridges. We heard a very good suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that the NFU, or whoever, should give publicity to these shot sizes which are not that easy to guess. They are not sold in great numbers but they are fairly readily available at gunmakers.

I have a suggestion that some thought ought to be given to putting some kind of health warning on those two particular sizes of shot which are liable to be used almost exclusively for deer, although AA may be used on geese. The health warning should say something of the range at which they are effective against deer, because, as we have heard from other noble Lords, the question of range is of critical importance with a shotgun. Anything over 25 yards or 30 yards is too far even with the very big pellets. With a rifle, the range is relatively immaterial. If you can see a deer the bullet is likely to be going fast enough to kill it. Even if you cannot hit it at very long ranges, the bullet is still going fast enough to kill it. That is not so with shotguns. That is the main objection to them. In the wrong hands they will be used at wrong ranges. It is only at very short ranges that they are effective.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, asked about self-loading rifles. I have a little experience of them and I would say to him that, in my opinion, they are more humane than single-shot or bolt-action rifles in that in the event of the first shot not being fully effective it is very easy to fire the second shot very quickly and finish the job humanely.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have had a full and interesting debate this evening and I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part for the general welcome that they have given this order. I turn first to answering some of the points this evening and if I miss any I shall write to the noble Lord concerned. I turn first to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, who, as he forewarned me, gave criticism to our first order. I should not like the House to think that the first order was out of order. In fact, it was a perfectly legitimate order and it was open to the department to make an order in the form of the draft. He might have disagreed with it but it was certainly not ultra vires.

I turn next to shotguns mentioned by other noble Lords. If I can just sum up the Government's thoughts on this and those on the Red Deer Commission who advised us, we considered all the arguments that recommended the retention of the shotgun for crop protection only and advised that the right to use the weapon should be restricted to the occupier or his authorised employees and residents on the land. We believe that this strikes the right balance. It restricts the use of the shotgun to circumstances where it is strictly necessary and avoids abuse arising from its widespread and indiscriminate use.

In an effort to ensure humane and clean dispatch of animals, the order lays down minimum standards of ammunition so that the weapons will have enough reserve power to kill animals cleanly or, at least, incapacitate them long enough for a further killing shot to be administered.

The effectiveness of the weapon is much dependent on its distance from target when fired. We do not consider that maximum legal distances laid down by order would be enforceable; but the Red Deer Commission are to issue a code of practice which will clearly set out recommended distances according to species of deer and ammunition used. I hope that that answers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Tryon.

While on ammunition for shotguns, I would say that the gun itself must be 12-bore or more and loaded with the specified ammunition; that is to say, a rifle slug or SSG or greater for all species or, for roe deer, AAA or larger. With regard to the shotgun, I think that my noble friend Lord Stanley has a point. The shotgun itself can be a deterrent. I know that it is slightly prejudicing the old home county, but I would invite the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, up to Caithness to have a look at some of the crofting communities, where a rifle simply would not be an appropriate weapon to use.

7.30 p.m.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon (who, incidentally, said that he was not Scottish, although I remember not so very long ago spending many happy hours on the hill with him), mentioned that shotgun ammunition was not readily available. The Red Deer Commission will shortly issue a code of practice which will tell farmers what shotgun ammunition is allowed. I have just mentioned that under the order. Also, the order has been, and will be, given adequate publicity. It is not accepted, I do not think—this is from my own experience, too—that the specified ammunition is not readily available in all gun shops.

My noble friend Lord Swansea mentioned the problems that could arise over the use of hand-loaded ammunition. It will be the responsibility of the person loading his own bullets to reach the necessary specification. Of course I admit that enforcement will be more difficult in those circumstances, but anybody who loads his own ammunition will, we hope, be responsible and sensible enough to keep it up to the right specification; and, of course, we do have a strict method of enforcement.

I believe that all speakers mentioned self-loading weapons. As the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, with his vast experience of the Forestry Commission, said, they are particularly keen on this, and we did receive extremely strong representations for the retention of those rifles from all sectors of the forestry industry, because they are useful tools in combating increasing deer damage which is being done in the Scottish forests. Perhaps if we got rid of the Scottish forests we could get rid of self-loading rifles; but that is another debate altogether, and I do not want to go down that path tonight.

The Government would be as concerned as anybody if needless cruelty resulted from the use of these weapons, which I emphasise can be used quite legally at the present time. I hope that the Red Deer Commission will be able to advise the Secretary of State on these matters in due course. I have clearly stated that if it is found they are being abused or used recklessly, the Government are prepared to reconsider their status. The noble Lord, Lord Tryon, said we should have a health warning for shotgun ammunition—I suppose rather like that on cigarette packets—and that the Red Deer Commission's code of practice will be specific on the recommended range for specified loads.

Lastly, I turn to enforcement, which was raised by many noble Lords, and particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Northfield and Lord John-Mackie, and by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. The Red Deer Commission has recently written to all court authorities emphasising the need to punish poachers effectively. It is hoped that due regard will be paid to this. Prosecution, of course, is a matter for the Procurator Fiscal and I hope that noble Lords have taken on board the fact that the Lord Advocate has sat with us throughout our discussion tonight.

I hope that I have now dealt with the principal questions that arose in the debate. The interests involved in deer are many and are often in conflict. The conflict seems to be at its sharpest when it comes to the question of firearms and ammunition, but nevertheless I think there are large areas of common ground. We are generally agreed that some control is overdue; that the shotgun should be restricted but is still a useful weapon; that each species of deer should be shot only with weapons amply capable of delivering a fatal blow, but that in all cases only the expanding bullet should be used; and that the time is not yet ripe to allow the use of the highly-specialised type of sight developed originally for military use. The order provides for all these things, and that is a solid advance. Whatever our views on other aspects of the order we should not lose sight of that, and I hope that your Lordships will give the order a warm welcome now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until ten minutes to eight, which I believe is the agreed time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.35 until 7.50 p.m.]