§ Sir F. Soskice
I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 12, to leave out from "has" to "enters" in line 13 and inserta firearm with him".This Amendment does in relation to Clause 4 precisely what the previous Amendments did to Clause 3. In Clause 3 armed trespass in a building is dealt with. Clause 4 deals with armed trespass on land. As it stands, the Clause again requires the possession not merely of a firearm but of ammunition suitable for use in the firearm. For reasons similar to those which I sought to advance in the case of the previous Amendment we think it appropriate, as was argued by hon. Members opposite during the Committee stage, that the words:with him a firearm together with ammunition suitable for use in that firearmshould he omitted.
641 Possibly, it is more requisite in this Clause even than in the last to omit those words. If an individual who is trespassing on land when armed and is perhaps a long way from the main road realises that the hue and cry is after him and that he is liable to be caught, it is the easiest thing in the world for him to shed any ammunition which he has and in that way to avoid the risk of prosecution under this Clause.
I should add that the Clause is one which creates an offence of lesser gravity than that created by the previous Clause, which contemplated a situation in which the conduct was more reprehensible, in that it was armed trespass in a building. This Clause contemplates armed trespass on land, which can be said perhaps to have less serious potentialities than the conduct described in the previous Clause.
One does not want to make the Clause ineffective by providing a ready opportunity for the wrongdoer to divest himself of the evidence, the ammunition, which would make him liable under the Clause. It would be so easy for him to do so, by throwing it away behind a bush where nobody would see it. Therefore, we propose to the House that we should leave out these words, in this Clause as in the last.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
As the Home Secretary so clearly appreciated the importance of this to those who live in the country, I should like to add my word of thanks to him for accepting the points which we put forward in Committee. It was my Amendment to this Clause to which I was referring a moment ago. An undertaking was given by the Joint Under-Secretary of State that this would be looked at. The Home Secretary was not at that time so receptive as he is today. I am most grateful to him for his full appreciation of how important this is to the countryside.
Mr. J. E. B. Hill
I, too, should like to thank the Home Secretary for meeting our arguments in Committee and particularly for advising me during the interval of his intention, which enabled me to withdraw Amendments which I had down on this point.
I think that this will make the Clause both more workable arid more acceptable in the countryside. It will be more 642 workable, because our experience showed that it is usually the less blameworthy armed trespasser in the countryside who has ammunition on him, often the individual trespasser, the man who has lost his way. Therefore, he would tend to be caught by the old provisions, whereas the calculating hooligan would tend to escape. We have remedied that. I think that there is a greater gain, and that it will be more acceptable because it will now be possible for the occupier of land to see that armed trespass is being committed. He will see a stranger who has no permission to come, with a gun. He could then say to that stranger, "You have no permission to come on to my land. I see that you are carrying a firearm. You are committing an offence and I request you to leave."
There is no comeback. The man could jot say, "I have no ammunition." That means that, in most cases, the innocent trespasser will say that he is sorry and there will be no further trouble. He will withdraw and the police need not be troubled at all, under this revised Clause, because they will not be required to discover whether or not the man has ammunition. Therefore, I think that this will make the Clause more acceptable and less onerous in operation.
§ Mr. Sharples
This was one of the more controversial matters which we discussed in Committee, and we divided the Committee on this point. The acceptance by the Home Secretary of the proposal which we put forward will go a long way towards meeting the point of representations made to us by the National Farmers' Union and other bodies. We are most grateful to him for reconsidering the matter and for putting forward this Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 18, to leave out subsection (2).
Those of us who have been listening for the last hour or hour-and-a-half of our discussion and who did not have the good fortune to be in Committee on the Bill are beginning to feel that we missed a very worth-while Committee. The number of courtesies and amiabilities flying from one side of the House to the other is something to which we are not accustomed, at least in Scotland.
643 Talking about outworkers on an earlier Amendment—I am not certain that he would think of Scotland in that sense—the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that since we are taking so many powers in the Bill it would be foolish to leave this small loop-hole. When we look at Clause 4(2) we see an enormous loophole, because the whole of Scotland has been left out. Although I entirely agreed with the Home Secretary when he said that armed trespass on land was rather less sinister than trespass in a house, there are conditions which have made it right for the Home Secretary to take these powers in England which, as far as I can make out, apply in Scotland, if not with as much force, certainly in exactly the same degree.
It may be that we have fewer hooligans. It may be that we are a little more law abiding. But evidence has been reaching me in the last few weeks of a fairly steady number of complaints of this type of trespass in the countryside, particularly around towns, where a great deal of damage is done and where there is a great deal of cruelty to animals. If the Government have had their ear to the ground in Scotland as they have in England—and I am sure that they have—they will have found that many chief constables, the N.F.U. and other bodies feel that it is not fair to exclude Scotland from this provision.
I have moved the Amendment as shortly as I can in order to minimise the risk of the amiability seeping away. I hope that the Government will indicate that they realise that in this respect Scotland is due the same treatment as England and will be grateful if it gets it.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) in hoping that the spirit of amiability, this curious contagion of acceptance, which we have seen in the House will spread to the Minister of State for Scotland. I fail to understand why the Clause, which seems to me to be one of the most important Clauses in the Bill, does not extend to Scotland. Why is Scotland in the Government's view so different from England in the matter of the misuse of firearms? Why should it be unlawful to trespass with a loaded firearm in England 644 but not unlawful to do so in Scotland? Why should a youth who wanders wildly about the countryside with an airgun be committing an offence in England but not in Scotland?
I think that it is true to say that we in Scotland enjoy a higher degree of respect for country life than is the case around some of the great cities in England. I do not say that as an assault on the English. However, in the last few years there has been an extension of abuse of country life. This is, I suppose, a reflection of the new affluence; the movement of people from cities to the countryside—a good thing in itself, but inevitably it carries with it the risk that an element of hooliganism will spread from the cities into the countryside, with the dangers and damage that can result.
In Scotland we have experienced the thoughtless exploitation of, for example, fishing grounds, with bus loads of people flogging a wee hill loch to death. How soon will it be before these habits extend to the carrying of firearms and the malicious and irresponsible shooting of animals, and at animals, in fields?
Not long ago we in Scotland were all shocked to read of gangs marching out from the cities at night and shooting, even machine gunning, deer by the roadside, having tracked them down by using the headlights of motor cars. This was a wicked and vicious thing to do and the more we can restrict the freedom people have to misuse firearms in this way the better for all concerned. I fail to understand the logic of excluding Scotland from the Clause and I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)
After the generous and amiable treatment which I accorded hon. Gentlemen opposite in Committee upstairs. I thought that I was deserving of rather higher marks than I have been given.
The Amendment would apply the Clause to Scotland. When this provision was introduced and discussed in Committee my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that there was no demand for legislation of this sort in Scotland. That, so far as we knew, was the position. We understood at that time 645 that there was no demand for it in Scotland arid my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate were satisfied that there were sufficiently good grounds for not imposing what is, after all, another restriction, however good its aim.
However, since it was pointed out by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) that there was a demand for this provision, we have, since the Committee stage, tried to find out exactly what the position is. We have discovered that the Scottish Landowners' Federation and the Scottish N.F.U. both wish to have the provision applied to Scotland. We also tested opinion among Scottish chief constables. Although we discovered some division of opinion among them—which shows that there is still some doubt on this issue—the majority thought that there might be some merit in the Clause applying to Scotland.
There was some indication that the behaviour around some of the larger conurbations was such that some useful purpose might be served if the provision applied to Scotland. We had in mind the fact that behaviour of the sort mentioned—people flocking out from the towns, being armed with airguns and other weapons and creating a nuisance in the countryside—might tend to increase. This led us to reconsider the matter and I accordingly advise the House to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Noble
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to thank the Minister of State. I thought that his amiability came from his physical proximity to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), but I do not want in any way to be grudging in my gratitude to him for accepting this Amendment. I shall be equally forthcoming with my praise if he can equal the efforts of his right hon. and hon. Friends in accepting, as far as I can make out, about six Amendments per page of the Bill that is being considered in the Scottish Standing Committee.
§ Amendment agreed to.