§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT rose to call attention to the recommendations regarding deer contained in the Report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals (Cmd. 8266) and, in particular, to Paragraphs 214 and 215 of that Report; to ask His Majesty's Government whether they accept these recommendations, and if so, what action they propose thereon; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I speak on a subject which I think is non-controversial and also one on which debate is long overdue. Many of your Lordships, no doubt, have had the pleasure of b stalking the wild red deer on the hill. I think that one's first stag probably stands out in the memory of anyone who is fond of shooting. Possibly, a less happy memory is of the first stag one misses. I remember that, in my own case, I missed a stag standing broadside on, and fairly close, with both barrels of a very heavy rifle—first one barrel and then the other. On this occasion I feel in a rather similar condition, because I have arrived here to address your Lordships' House without my ammunition. My papers were sent down from Scotland and returned to Scotland without my seeing them. However, I will do my best in the circumstances.
§ I step in, rather rashly, to follow up a Question which has already been asked by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, with reference to the slaughter of, and the infliction of unnecessary cruelty upon, red deer in the United Kingdom, under the present highly unsatisfactory conditions 205 whereby these splendid wild animals come under no suitable legislation to prevent untrammelled poaching and the infliction of unnecessary suffering at the hands of desperadoes and organised gangs of poachers. These people have turned their attention to the destruction of our wild herds after being successfully prevented from carrying on, as they had previously done, an even more profitable method of supplying the black market in food—namely, salmon poaching. I feel that it would be greatly to the credit of the Scottish Office. who recently brought into operation an Act which has had most satisfactory and astonishingly rapid results in checking the unlawful destruction of salmon, if they could now turn and do the same thing for the benefit of these unfortunate deer. The traffic in the car-cakes of these animals, I suggest, has, to a large extent, taken the place in the black market of the traffic in poached salmon.
§ I do not speak as a land owner, but rather as a farmer, and I have no intention of giving the impression that it is in the interests of sport or with regard to the question of cruelty alone that I speak. I speak also having in mind the importance and the value, from a meat-producing point of view, of the deer stocks of Scotland. We reckon that in the Highlands alone there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100,000 red deer. Every season about 8,000 stags and hinds are shot under lawful conditions, and their flesh goes to the table in the form of first-class venison. Eight thousand deer represent something like 1,000 tons of meat, and I think your Lordships will agree that that is a not inconsiderable contribution to the nation's food supply. But the unfortunate fact emerges that, for a variety of reasons, since the war the conditions under which that meat supply exists have largely changed. I will endeavour, as briefly as possible, to trace the cause and effect.
§ The blame, I think, does not rest in any one quarter, but the results collectively are extremely unfortunate. You must distinguish between different collections of deer. There are, first, the deer living in a deer forest, under the control of, and supervised by, a competent staff of deerstalkers, who in turn are directed by a proprietor who lives on his land and whose family has, maybe, had the 206 ground for several generations. That class of proprietor is usually extremely well versed in the subject, and by letting his deer forest can maintain it in good order. A great number of estates have been broken up and have changed hands, and though the deer range over an area of some 3,000,000 acres of the Northern Highlands, they are far too often in places where they have no right to be. The Forestry Commissioners have taken over a great deal of valley land, and have bought up estates which have been sold or dispersed. As a result, the deer, who are forest creatures, have entered these woods, and from the protection of the woods have come out and, unquestionably, have done a great deal of damage to crops and small holdings in the vicinity, and have made a nuisance of themselves in enclosed land. In other places, the winter feed in the valleys which the deer must have has been flooded by hydro-electric schemes; and in other cases, where schemes are only in process of completion, the same effect has been caused by great numbers of workmen dynamiting, excavating and putting up heavy constructional works. All this has driven the deer away and sent them where they have no right to be.
§ But all these things fade into insignificance beside the fact that it is hard to find people who can afford, or are interested in, the pleasure of leasing a forest and stalking stags upon it. I am speaking as one of the younger members of your Lordships' House, and I deplore the fact that young men to-day are incapable of stalking. It is not always due to a lack of money; they prefer to find their pleasures elsewhere. One finds few men of my own age who will go through a forenoon's stalking with the pleasure they ought to enjoy. They like an easy day on the hill, but they seem happier in the lower ground or in the boudoir. I am still talking on cause and effect and I feel that I should add that, during the war, I myself was partly to blame for this. In the Highlands there were mountain warfare training centres, commando training establishments and small boat sections, which did great work in destroying enemy shipping. They were grouped and trained in Argyllshire, Inverness-shire and Wester Ross. Part of their curricula included deer-stalking, to improve their field-craft. A great 207 many soldiers could neither stalk nor shoot— that was another rather surprising state of affairs—and they set a bad example, in that the old traditions of the forest were broken.
§ In the old days one went out with a tremendous feeling of awe, and one had to take care to behave correctly. One was expected to listen to one's host the evening before, to be up early next morning, to fire one shot and to return either triumphant or disgraced, from one's efforts on the hill. All that gave way to the sort of happy-go-lucky mood of "How many cartridges have you got?" "What shall we get to-day? Shall we fill a lorry?" That sort of attitude reminds me of the story told of one commando who, returning from leave, met a stag on the road. He closed with it and gradually over-powered it. Then he was heard to shout "Bring the bayonet, Geordie!" That is hardly the spirit which makes one free of the forest. Through familiarity, the old tradition of deer-stalking has disappeared, and there is a change in our whole regard to that noble sport.
§ I am leading up to the fact that there is a puzzling habit of killing deer in large numbers with the minimum amount of exercise and because of the meat shortage, with the maximum amount of profit. I know that many soldiers who were snipers, and who performed fine service in the war, have now come home and kill deer under their own arrangements. If they did it for their own profit, that would be understandable, but it is entirely wrong when they have become earmarked as professional killers of meat, who seek only to fire the maximum number of rounds in the minimum amount of time with the best possible results, regardless of the age or sex of the deer they kill. Where gentlemen of sporting instincts used to take a forest on long lease, we now see well-to-do butchers taking a whole series of deer forests and producing their teams of picked marksmen, who manœuvre the deer into a suitable piece of ground, driving them through a pass or some natural feature which will bring them down to a slow walk, so that they can kill from twenty-five to thirty head of stag in one afternoon and get them home.208
§ I have referred to the meat shortage. Before the war it was quite impossible to convince anybody, even the domestic staff of a shooting lodge, that venison was good to eat. Great reluctance was always shown if it was suggested that someone might be sent a haunch of venison. It was pleaded that he might not be glad to get it. Venison was thought to be "high" because the taste was different from beef or mutton. Perhaps it may be that we do not know what beef or mutton tastes like nowadays, but certainly venison is now at a premium. It is not surprising that last winter, in the shops of London, reindeer meat was being sold at 4s. 6d. a pound. If reindeer meat is worth 4s. 6d. a pound, I should like to suggest, without undue patriotism, that Highland venison is worth at least 5s. a pound. That means that a stag in good condition is worth from £10 to £15, which is a considerable sum. The stag which may weigh 70 stone when clean in August or September will weigh only about 11 stone in spring, when it is a feeble object, scraping an uneasy living at the road side; but he is still good to the dishonest butcher or to the uninformed town dweller who needs a joint for the Christmas dinner, a coming-of-age party, a wedding, or any other celebration where more than half a dozen people are gathered together. That stag's haunch is worth 5s. a pound, in whatever state the animal is. It can be quite first-class at the right season of the year, but for the remaining ten months it commands the same value, although not quite so heavy. The haunch of a stag weighs somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 1b., and at 5s. a pound your Lordships can see that there is a considerable commercial value in the animal for a man who knows how to go about it. That is what is happening. The demand is there; the supply is there; and, under the present law, there are no means of controlling the fines and penalties that go with this wanton and cruel destruction of the animal about which we are talking.
§ An excellent White Paper has been printed, which I hope is in your Lordships' possession. I wish to refer to paragraphs 214 and 215 of that White Paper, although I shall not read them. Without wasting your Lordships' time, if you read those paragraphs you will see that the proposals there are threefold. I desire merely to amplify them slightly. 209 The proposals I submit to your Lordships are, first, that there should be a close season for red deer—and the time I suggest is from January 1 to August 1; secondly, that red deer should be promoted to being game animals; and, finally, that no venison should be sold through the market during the close season. Possibly the last recommendation is the most important of the three. There are always unscrupulous people who will sell venison in a close season, with the excuse that it was killed before the season ended and put in a refrigerator. That is simply a matter for investigation and review. There is nothing difficult in my recommendations, and I hope that they can be favourably considered.
§ My Lords, I understand that I have to close my speech now.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There is to be a Royal Commission, but that will only take a certain number of minutes. The noble Lord may then continue his speech from where he has left off.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.