§ sider whether a formula could be found to exempt the agricultural occupier who shoots deer in defence of his crops from the prohibition on night shooting. Its effect is that an occupier of agricultural land, or of enclosed woodlands, will not be guilty of an offence against Clause 23 (1)—the night shooting provision—if he shoots a deer at night on enclosed land forming part of his agicultural holding or on his enclosed woodlands
§ The new subsection (5) links the two preceding subsections with the 1948 Act, which contains in Section 43 the provision conferring on a tenant-occupier of an agricultural holding or enclosed woodlands the right to kill deer on his enclosed land. Going one further stage, I hope that the House will permit me to say a word about the next Amendment, because it has a bearing on what I am now saying.
§ The Government Amendment to the Third Schedule is for the purpose of repealing subsection (2) of Section 43 of the 1948 Act, which provided that a tenant-occupier should not exercise his right of shooting during the hours of darkness. If the subsection were left un-repealed, the tenant who shot deer by night on his enclosed land would not be guilty of a criminal offence—by virtue of the new subsection (4) in the Amendment—but he might be liable to proceedings against him by his landlord, that is, civil proceedings. The repeal of subsection (2) of the 1948 Act gives the tenant-occupier an absolute right to shoot at night in the circumstances mentioned in the new subsection (4).
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ This is an important Amendment and there is one more explanation I ought to 1419 give which may help the House. The existing law, quite apart from the Bill, is as follows. It is not a criminal offence to shoot deer at night. No one, however, has a right to shoot deer at night except the landower or someone permitted by him. Anyone else who shoots deer at night risks a civil action of interdict. The effect of Section 43 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948, is that an agricultural tenant or a person authorised by him may, even without the landowner's permission, shoot deer on enclosed land forming part of a holding by day but not by night. That is the position as the law stood.
§ The effect of the Bill is that Clause 23 (1) makes it an offence for anybody, whether owner, tenant or anyone else, to shoot deer at night. The effect of the Government Amendment is to secure that it will not be a criminal offence for an occupier to shoot deer at night on his enclosed land. That relates to subsection (4). The occupier will in future have a civil right to shoot deer at night as well as by day on his enclosed land.
§ I hope that has made the intention of the Amendment clear. I recognise that it is a difficult matter, and we have given it a great deal of thought. There is a case—I know it very well—for stopping all-night shooting. That was the view that we held at first, but we have listened very carefully to what has been said and we recognise that it might be hard on people who have to do some night shooting—occupiers only—if the right were taken from them. We have done our best to find a formula which will meet the situation.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have a little difficulty in understanding the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment to the proposed Amendment, for it refers to "woodlands" in line 9, and I do not see "woodlands" in that line.
§ Mr. Johnston
The explanation, Mr. Speaker, is that the word "woodlands" begins in line 8 of the proposed Amendment. Would it be in order to deal with our Amendment to the proposed Amendment now?
§ Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill, put and negatived.1420
§ Question proposed, That the proposed words be there inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. D. Johnston
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 9, after "woodlands', to insert:or for any person authorised by him in writing in that behalf".We recognise the difficulty that the Secretary of State and the Government felt in moving their Amendment, but I think that, on balance, they have come to a very proper conclusion. The effect of the Government Amendment is, on the whole, beneficial, but I notice what may well be an omission. It allows an occupier to shoot during the close season under Clause 21, and it also allows him to authorise another person to shoot during the close season. The other part of the Government Amendment allows the occupier to shoot, in effect, in defence of his crops at night, but it does not allow a person authorised by him to do so. The Amendment proposed by me would allow him to do so.
It is clear that some shooting during forbidden hours must be allowed on some occasions; that fact is recognised by the Secretary of State's Amendment. It is also known that there are many old crofters who have not used a gun for many years, and who would much prefer a person authorised by them to do the shooting than to do it themselves. Under the terms of the Government Amendment that is not possible. In many cases I imagine that the crofter concerned would want to have the shooting done for him by a stalker employed by the Commission, and such a person would be an admirable choice. In those circumstances, I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
§ Mr. Maclay
I realise why the hon. and learned Member has moved his Amendment. At first sight it seems illogical to refuse the right of delegation of authority to shoot at night, when it is allowed in the close season in daylight. We have considered this question very carefully. To begin with, night shooting is dangerous, and it is only because we feel very strongly that something should be done that we have gone as far as we have. The delegation of powers to shoot at night has two great disadvantages. First, it means that not just the occupier but somebody nominated by him might 1421 be shooting at night and, secondly—and more seriously—it provides too easy a loophole for the commercial poacher to get an authorisation.
This question has been examined by the experts, who assure me that if we allow this authorisation it would not be too difficult for the gang poacher or the commercial poacher to make use of that fact to explain why he had deer in his possession, or why he had shot a deer. It would be easy for him to get away with it.
The hon. and learned Member has in mind the older people, who are not able themselves to shoot. The ideal time to shoot marauding deer is probably at the first hour before dawn—which is not in the night. Under the terms of the Bill it is daylight. Night time is from an hour after sunset to an hour before sunrise. If an elderly crofter is having this sort of trouble he can get somebody to shoot for him at that hour in the morning. It is also possible for him to scare deer off by firing blanks, or making appropriate noises. I agree that that will not reduce the number of deer, but then the proper way is to get the deer dealt with as marauding deer.
Although I understand the purpose of the hon. and learned Member's Amendment I must ask the House to reject it.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.
§ Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.