§ Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ When they expect to abolish game licences.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the matter is still under consideration. We shall announce our conclusions as soon as possible.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, will my noble friend accept somewhat muted thanks for that reply? Is he aware that there were just 44,000 game licences issued in 1993 relative to 47,000 in 1992, which is a drop of some 7 per cent? Can he advise the House whether there was a similar decrease in shotgun licences issued? If there was not such a decrease—which I rather suspect —does he acknowledge that the percentage illegality rate has now increased to over 90 per cent?
My Lords, my noble friend does a lot of arithmetic with the figures that he produced, some of which is hypothetical. He is quite correct that the number of game licences has dropped. The number of shotgun licences in operation at the end of 1992 was 689,236 in England and Wales and 72,143 in Scotland.
§ Lord Clark of Kempston
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the fees for game licences are probably less than, if not equal to, the collection charges? Is this not a nonsense similar to dog licences, whereby taxpayers are asked to subsidise the collection charges for a licence? Whether it be a dog licence or a game licence, it probably costs more money to collect than is received, does it not?
My Lords, as usual, my noble friend has a point. The Home Office decrees that there should be a game licence. It is an excise licence and Customs and Excise come under the Treasury. The Post Office collects the licence and the Home Office pays the Post Office £225,000 to collect the fee. The income, which amounts to £220,000, goes to the local authorities. For that reason we are considering whether or not they should be contingent.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, can the Minister say how many Conservative MPs have shotgun licences and to what use they intend to put those shotguns ?
My Lords, one often wonders what is in people's minds, but I do not think that the noble Lord should infer anything nefarious.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, will my noble friend accept that I am perhaps the only 1428 Member present who has a valid game licence in his pocket at the moment? Will he take note of the fact that he has until 31st July to make up his mind and that we all very much hope that he will have done so by then?
§ Baroness Mallalieu
My Lords, can the noble Earl give the House an assurance that privatisation of game licences is not under consideration?
My Lords, I do not exclude the consideration of anything. However, so far as I know, privatisation of game licences is not one such matter.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Game Licences Act 1860 received Royal Assent on a Monday and that in that year the Monday was 13th August?
My Lords, that is an interesting piece of information which I am sure your Lordships will be deeply grateful to my noble friend for expounding.
§ Lord Burnham
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether consideration is being given to incorporation of the game licence within the gun licence, irrespective of the different authorities involved? People could opt out if they did not wish to take the gun licence. Does my noble friend agree that such a system would immeasurably increase the revenue?
My Lords, that point is being considered. Not everyone who has a shotgun licence wants a game licence. A shotgun licence is a licence to obtain a shotgun. A game licence is an excise duty. That is why the matter becomes rather confused. It is being considered but I doubt whether we shall go down the route suggested by my noble friend.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the noble Earl say what the 700,000 people, less 44,000 people, do with their guns if they do not shoot anything?
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, as my noble and learned friend pointed out, will it perhaps spur on my noble friend in his endeavours before the 31st July to know that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Country Landowners' Association are totally in favour of the abolition of game licences?
Yes, my Lords. Quite a lot of consultation has taken place. The views vary depending on the perspective of those who are consulted. All of them support as simple a system as possible. I am not surprised that the two organisations to which my noble friend referred wish to see game licences abolished.