HL Deb 28 June 1963 vol 251 cc466-503

12.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I want to remind your Lordships of the Deer (Scotland) Act, 1959, which followed the Report of the Scott Henderson Committee on cruelty to wild animals, so wisely set up by the Labour Government in 1951. The sections of the Scottish Act in dealing with the avoidance of unnecessary cruelty to deer are, to all intents and purposes, the same as the corresponding clauses in the Bill that I am now presenting, with the exception of course that they conform to English law as opposed to Scottish law.

The reasons underlying the necessity for this Bill are not in every case the same as those behind the Scottish Bill. The Scottish Bill became a dire necessity through the break-up of many big Highland estates after the war, when the vigorous protection which had been afforded to the wild red deer by these estates went by the board. But for the protection of landowners interested in conservation, the deer were at the mercy of bands of armed thugs who shot them at all times and seasons of the year. The situation was further complicated by the great food drive in the war, and the great increase of sheep on the high hills which in many cases drove the deer to other areas to seek new pastures. That, of course, required the setting up of the Deer Control Commission.

In the case of the England and Wales Deer Bill, which I am now presenting, the reasons are, on the whole, put forward on somewhat similar lines, although there are many reasons which are not the same as those behind the Scottish Act. First, we have had a great increase in the deer population of England and Wales owing to the extremely large acreage of timber that we now have in this country. In fact, it has been increasing ever since the First World War, owing to the extremely praiseworthy efforts of the Forestry Commission and of private landowners. I believe that there are now 600,000 acres of young plantations in England and Wales. This has altered the pattern of wild life in the country and has resulted in a great increase in deer, because, as your Lordships know, the natural habitat of deer is woodland. Equally, with the increase of woodland we have had an increase in arable land. Deer do damage to arable land. So it has become necessary to have a Bill to control, but at the same time to conserve, them.

Another reason has been the great increase in the number of weapons in private hands, especially in the last fifteen years. Then there is the greater accessibility of the countryside because of the motor car. This has resulted in a great deal of unauthorised shooting throughout the countryside by people who not only cause great danger and suffering to wild life, but are also a danger to themselves and to the public generally. To aggravate the problem, we have also had higher prices paid for venison, which is a direct encouragement to gangs in cars to shoot entirely for commercial profit without any regard to animal suffering. Probably it surprises a great many people in this country to learn that there is no proper legislation already in force to protect our largest and finest wild fauna. I think we are alone among civilised nations in having no such protection. In feudal times the wild deer were heavily protected by the Crown. But I personally can find no Act of Parliament during the last one hundred years that has done anything at all to protect wild deer. We have the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, which of course is chiefly concerned with domestic animals.

Before proceeding to discuss the Bill itself, I should like to name those organisations which have put an immense amount of effort and work into the preparation of this Bill. First of all, we have the sponsors of the Bill, the British Field Sports Society, ably supported by the Forestry Commission, the Nature Conservancy, the Council for Nature, the Fauna Preservation Society, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, and the New Forest Buck-hounds. I should also like to mention my honourable friend Mr. Jasper More in the other place, who presented this Bill there; also my honourable friend Mr. Kimball, who ably supported it, and there are many others, including my noble friend, Lord Willingdon, who is really rather more qualified than I to present this Bill. All these organisations have taken an immense amount of trouble in the preparation of this Bill. I am afraid I have done very little in relation to it; I am just a spokesman, and have not done the actual work.

May I now turn to the Bill itself? If we take Clause 1, which deals with close seasons, and if your Lordships will turn to the Schedule, you will see there the stags and bucks (apart from the roebuck, for which I will explain the reason later) who, if the Bill is passed, are to have a close season from May 1 to July 31. Some of your Lordships may wonder why this is such a short season, because in the Scottish Act the season for stags runs from October 21 to June 30. The reason is the difference in habitat. One has to remember that in the Highlands when the stag has bred he is very weak and valueless as a carcase, and, owing to the sparse grazing because of the early frost, he cannot regain his condition and is in a very poor state for the whole of the winter. But this does not apply in England, because after the breeding season the buck or stag has plenty of feeding and soon regains his strength. One also has to remember that in England, where the deer live in forests, the only season during which one can shoot them is when the leaves are off the trees and the bracken is down, so it is quite impracticable to have the same close season as exists in Scotland. The only way one can shoot deer in dense forest when the foliage is on the trees is to have a couple of highly trained hounds or tufters to drive them out of the forests.

Your Lordships probably want to know why the roebuck has no close season. The reason is that the roebuck has a different life cycle from that of the red deer, the fallow deer and the sika deer. He sheds his antlers at a different time and is in velvet at a different time; and when in velvet he does a great deal of damage in the woodlands. This is in contrast to the cycle of the fallow and red deer who are in velvet from May I to the end of July; the roebuck is in his velvet far earlier on in the winter when the leaves are off the trees. If one had a close season for him, it would be extremely hard to shoot him in the summer when the foliage is on the tree. No sportsman, of course, ever shoots a stag or buck in velvet, because they are then at their lowest ebb and, if they are frightened at all, they can easily damage their horns in the undergrowth.

Your Lordships will also notice from subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1 that: The Secretary of State may by order amend the said Schedule by the addition of deer of any species not mentioned in that Schedule … The reason for this is that we have other species of wild deer in England that appear to be coming indigenous. We have small deer called a mountjac, which is only the size of a small dog; we also have the Chinese water deer. Probably, in the course of time, these deer may increase and it will then be necessary for the Secretary of State to lay down a close season for them. By subsection (3) the Secretary of State will consult with any organisations interested before laying down a close season for any of these other species of deer, and I understand that these organisations include anti-blood-sports societies.

I think Clause 2 is quite straightforward. We have the same clause in the Scottish Act. One cannot have night shooting, because that leads to great cruelty—one cannot follow up wounded deer. But I would also point out that farmers are protected under Clause 10(2), which brings in the requirements of the Agriculture Act, 1947, to enable farmers or smallholders, if deer are eating their crops, to protect such crops in the night time or the daytime by shooting.

I now come to what I think your Lordships will agree is the most important clause of the Bill, Clause 3. This clause deals with unlawful methods. It follows to a great extent the recommendation of the Scott Henderson Committee in prohibiting such things as traps, snares, nets, poisons, drugs and things of that sort.

We now come to the weapons clause, and I must ask your Lordships to turn again to the Schedules. You will see that under paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 you cannot have a shot-gun under 12 bore. Of course a great many of us would rather do away with the shot-gun, but, as has been pointed out by the National Farmers' Union, who supported this Bill, owing to the difficulty of getting firearm certificates it is really necessary to have shot-guns, and so we have had to include them. The Scott Henderson Committee also pointed out that in undergrowth and restricted country the rifle was perhaps too dangerous, and in certain cases it was preferable to have a shot-gun.

Now we come to rifles. Of course, you cannot use a rifle with a calibre of under .240 inches. No doubt an expert can shoot a deer with a .22 calibre if he hits it in a vital place, in the neck or in the heart, but I am afraid the average person would only wound a deer. The trouble is that, if you shoot a deer with a .22, you cannot with certainty tell whether or not you have hit it, because it gives no reaction at all, unless of course you hit it in a vital place. Therefore, after the words "a calibre of less than .240 inches", there is inserted "or a muzzle energy of not less than 1,700 foot pounds." Some of your Lordships are probably ballistic experts; I think my noble friend Lord Swansea is going to speak on this subject. But what we call the foot poundage or the muzzle energy is a definition of the measure of the punch with which the bullet hits the deer. If you have a high muzzle energy you are, of course, far more likely to kill the deer. But even if you "haunch" it, which would be most regrettable, although the deer may not keel over you can see that you have hit it, and where you have hit it, and can then follow it up. Of course, I quite agree that you cannot expect a local constable to measure the muzzle energy of a rifle, but if he arrests a poacher presumably he will have his rifle and cartridges and then one can easily have the muzzle energy of the rifle proved by an expert.

As regards the shot-gun cartridge, it would of course be far preferable to have only a single ball as large as that used in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent. But here, again, under the existing law in England, if you have a shotgun you have to have a firearm certificate to fire only a single slug, to which again the N.F.U. object, so we have decided that we cannot have that. But a great deal of work has been done in experiments on the size of shot and on the type of shot-gun cartridge. After exhaustive experiments carried out, I understand, under the jurisdiction of a deputy surveyor of the New Forest and of one or two other bodies interested in this, the conclusion has been reached that SSG gives the best results, because in their experiments they found that 83¼ per cent. of all pellets of SSG fired proved to be fatal, as against 47½ per cent. of LG. Perhaps some people do not agree with that, but we have the proof of the experiments.

I shall have to return to the unlawful weapons clause because I forgot to mention the use of mechanically propelled vehicles, which of course is not allowed. Under Clause 3(3), the occupiers of deer parks are exempt from the restrictions on the use of mechanically propelled vehicles as set out in Clause 3(2). The reason for this is, of course, that in deer parks the ground is usually flat and open, and the most practical way of getting in to close range is by driving up in a Land Rover, because, as a great number of noble Lords will know, wild animals do not appear to be so scared of human beings in cars as they are of people on their feet. So the object of this clause is to prevent wounding, but the exemption is applicable to only the owners of deer parks. Of course, the chief owner here is the Crown, particularly in Richmond Park.

My Lords, Clause 4 is quite plain sailing, and I do not think there is anything I can say about that. I ought perhaps to point out here, with regard to Clause 4(2), that the term "prohibited article" does not include a car. In other words, if a man were caught poaching and his possessions were taken the authorities could not take his car. Clause 5 follows the Scottish Act but conforms to English law. Clause 6 also follows the Scottish precedent but conforms to English law. Clause 7 also follows the Scottish procedure on seizure, but perhaps I may refer your Lordships to subsection (2) of Clause 7. Here it says: A constable may sell any deer seized under this section and the net proceeds of the sale shall be liable to forfeiture in the same manner as the deer sold". If a constable seizes a deer, you cannot just let it rot in a police station: it ought to be made use of. We are here following, as I have said, the Scottish procedure. There is the same principle in the game laws, too. As to Clause 8, I do not think there is anything I need say. The penalties are far less severe than under the Scottish Act. On Clause 9, I ought to point out that "vehicle" includes an aircraft also. It may seem rather extraordinary that people should want to poach deer from aircraft, but I understand that there has been an instance of somebody in a helicopter shooting deer. I must say that seems a rather expensive way of doing it.

Under Clause 10, a person may kill an injured or diseased deer by using any of the articles prohibited by Clause 3(1)(a) or (b)—that is to say, traps, snares, drugs or nets. He may also use any weapon for that purpose. Subsection (2) of Clause 10 is important. I have referred to it before with reference to farmers. There is nothing in this Bill which prohibits farmers from protecting their crops. Subsection (3) of Clause 10 is important because there might be an instance where the farmer or the smallholder was ill, and if he was ill he would, presumably, be unable to go and protect his crops from the deer. Under this subsection he can designate somebody else to do this job for him. Of course, he has to prove that the action is necessary to protect his crops, pasture or trees.

Clause 11 gives to the Nature Conservancy the authority to license such prohibited articles as stupefying drugs or muscle-relaxing agents with the object of taking deer alive for scientific purposes and also educational purposes. These relaxing agents have been used in Africa with great success, and they are humane and quite harmless. The licences can be revoked by the Nature Conservancy at any time. Clause 12 merely prescribes the form in which the Secretary of State is to make orders under the Bill. Clause 13 is just the Title of the Bill, its extent and commencement.

My Lords, that is the Bill. Of course, it is not perfect—I do not suppose any Bill ever has been perfect—but it must be remembered that it had been born out of compromise between many conflicting interests. But I would emphasise that this Bill is not directed to favour any particular section of the community—sport, forestry, agriculture or commerce. The plain object of the Bill is to prevent cruelty to our most beautiful of wild animals. It may surprise your Lordships to learn that, out of all the deer shot in. Forestry Commission woodlands last year, 60 per cent. of them had gunshot wounds. I myself have seen the most pitiable sights of wounded deer—deer with their jaws shot off or their entrails hanging out—and it honestly makes one's heart bleed to think that we have not had any previous legislation to prevent this. One sometimes sees fawns that are dying of starvation because the does or the hinds have been shot. My Lords, I really commend this Bill to your Lordships as an extremely humane Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it all the support you can. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

12.48 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount on the way in which he has presented the details of the Bill, and I am bound to tell him that I support it to the extent that it does anything at all to help deer. But I want, if I may, in a speech that I think will take rather longer than until the one o'clock adjournment time—but we shall see—to say why it is that I criticise this Bill. I criticise it not because of what is in it but because of what is not in it. I do not like it for the following reasons. It will not stop the hunting of deer by hounds; it will not stop the worrying or the hunting of pregnant hinds; it will not stop that dreadful practice of slitting a deer's throat without pre-stunning; it will not stop the disgusting cruelty of the hunting of carted deer: it will not stop the use of a shotgun using what is called "sportsman" size shot; it will not stop the indiscriminate shooting of deer; and it will not stop the leaving of a wounded deer. That is a fairly comprehensive and formidable list of deficiencies in the Bill, as I see it, but there are more. These I shall endeavour to point out not in this speech, in order not to waste the time of your Lordships, but when moving Amendments trying to change the close season, and so on, when we reach that stage of the Bill, if it goes on its way this afternoon.

As the noble Viscount moving the Bill has said, this is a child of the British Field Sports Society, and I do not need to tell your Lordships that the aims and objectives of that Society are not the defence and protection of animals but the defence and protection of all blood sports in this country. They set up this working party under the chairmanship of a Member of another place, a former huntsman and a Master of Hounds, and, as the noble Viscount has said, that working party consulted with various people. It consulted with important and reputable bodies like the Forestry Commission and the Country Landowners' Association, and as the noble Viscount reminded us, it consulted also with the Devon and Somerset Stag-hounds and the New Forest Buckhounds.

But I will name three organisations that it did not consult: the National Society for the Abolition of Deer Hunting, the League Against Cruel Sports, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. One might have been forgiven for thinking, if this Bill is to help animals, that each one of those three organisations might have had some inquiries addressed to it and might have been consulted before the Bill was drafted. I am afraid I agree with those in another place who said that the Bill is a rearguard action of those anxious to continue blood sports. I agree, too, with the honourable gentleman who, in the Committee stage of the Bill, said that what always impressed him was the enormous lengths to which Parliament in this country will go to protect the interests of so-called sportsmen. My Lords, we are the nation that passed resolutions condemning the Russians for putting a dog up in a sputnik in the air.

It may surprise some of your Lordships to know that deer have even less protection than the hare. They are classed, in fact, with rats as vermin in England and Wales. The Protection of Animals Act, 1911, completely failed to protect them. Sections 12 to 16 of the Larceny Act, 1861, which refer to unlawful hunting, wounding, snaring or killing, relate in fact only to animals that are owned. Wild deer are not owned by anybody and are the responsibility of no one. So in England and Wales you can still do what you like. In Scotland, by the Act of 1959, as the noble Viscount commented in moving this Second Reading, machinery was set up which was regarded by most people as containing many satisfactory features. As one listened to the noble Viscount one would have thought, from his praise of the Scottish Act and the comparison he was seeking to make between that Act and his Bill, that this Bill would have reproduced effectively those features in the Scottish Act; but, of course, it does not.

The Scottish Act of 1959 sets up a Deer Commission, making a provision that it is unlawful to kill deer other than by shooting, and providing for the establishment of effective and long close seasons. I should like to deal in Committee with the way in which this Bill does not. In my view, the first improvement needed in this Bill is a clear one: the provision for a deer authority, somewhat on the lines of the Scottish Act Commission, charged with clear functions to be carried out in accordance with the directions given by the Secretary of State. Only by the establishment of such an authority can cruelty, embarked upon in the name of sport, be dealt with effectively.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Government representative in another place said that the indiscriminate shooting which constitutes the main evidence in respect of this problem is not necessarily attributable to poachers. The fact is that more and more inexpert marksmen are taking part in shoots. I take one of a number of Press cuttings that I possess to quote to your Lordships. It is from the Manchester Evening News of May 31, 1963. It states: Top professional people and business men in the North-West have started practising for a suddenly fashionable sport … and in the new hunting grounds of the North it is cheaper than most other prestige pastimes … 8s. per hour … and sportsmen may buy the heads of any deer they kill for £2 10s. 0d. I regard it as deplorable that the Bill, as it is now drafted, places no curb on the amateur marksmen whose numbers are increasing.

This state of affairs, with its increase in unnecessary suffering to the animal, is likely to continue unless the control of deer is put in the hands of a Commission or authority on lines similar to those I have suggested. Indeed, unless there is such an authority the next thing we shall know, based on this North-West experience, is the use and hiring of land for "shoots" which, in turn, could even lead to the breeding of animals especially for use in hunting and shooting. That is common on the Continent. At least one firm in Denmark exports animals especially bred for this so-called sport.

The only method of humane deer control, in my view, is the system increasingly practised by Her Majesty's Forestry Commission, modelled on the German style, which is called "selective shooting"—shooting by experts trained in the knowledge of deer, trained in marksmanship, using high seats and rifles; and not deer drives such as are now practised in this country, and which are still not to be prohibited under this Bill as it now stands. A recent issue of the Field, referring to deer drives, said: They are conducted too often as if they were pheasant shoots, with deer sent forward in panic and hasty shots fired. Nor does this Bill prohibit the most horrible practice of all in respect to deer drives: the hunting of carted deer. On that subject I venture to keep your Lordships from lunch for another couple of minutes to read to you from the pamphlet of the R.S.P.C.A.: The most decadent of all hunts is the hunting of the carted deer. The Government Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, reporting to Parliament in 1951, said of it: 'We cannot see that it fulfils any useful function'. Then it goes on to give a description given by a person called a "humane person" who saw it at the Norwich Stag Hunt. This is the description given to the Association: … 'Two harmless hinds, bred in captivity, each in a small crate, were carted to the meet. The hounds sniffed round the crates for the scent. The crates were then taken to a field some distance away where one terrified deer was released and this bewildered creature made off. Then along came the hounds and huntsmen into the field to get more scent. (The second deer was still in its crate.) 'The hunt was then on and men and women started the chase. Others at different points showed the way the poor frightened creature had gone. It was caught exhausted and half-drowned in a pond and was re-crated to be used for a future hunt. 'The "spare" deer in a frantic state was jolted round the countryside for hours, the trailer traversing banks and gullies following the sport.' That animal is released if the first one does not provide good enough sport; or if it manages to get itself killed and thus gets out of its misery. But if the sport is good enough then the second one goes back with the first one.

My Lords, that is a pretty shocking story. I cannot think why provision to stop this is not in the Bill already. This disgusting thing is practised in only two small parts of the country. It is a blot on England and on the English way of life. I deliberately use the word "England" because both cases are in England. My Lords, we have spent thousands of pounds to save antelopes in Kenya. Can we not spare a thought for the deer in this country, to protect them from those who misuse the name of sportsmanship? While we follow with growing interest tie rescue of animals from the encroaching waters of a dam in darkest Africa, here, in allegedly civilised England, the Press can report an ex-master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds as saying of a deer at kill: Of course, it was in calf … they always are at this time of the year … and, of course, it was exhausted … we do not catch them unless they are. So, are we a civilised community?

While I shall not oppose the Second Reading, I will try to persuade your Lordships, in the stages of the Bill between now and Third Reading, to make such Amendments as will make it a Bill which is really for the benefit of animals as well as for the benefit of alleged sportsmen. I welcome the Bill because it does two things. First of all, it opens the door to legislation about deer; and, secondly, it gives me an opportunity of persuading some of your Lordships to make this the good Bill it can be.

[The Sitting was suspended at two minutes past one and resumed at 2 o'clock.]

2.0 p.m.


My Lords, as the only Member of your Lordships' House who was a member of the unofficial committee which drafted this Bill and sat through many weary hours in a bad winter, I should like to commend it to your Lordships. I could not agree more that the Bill is a glorious compromise: it pleases everybody on the committee, but satisfies none completely. We had tremendous help as the noble Lord, Lord Crook, said, from the Forestry Commission, in that they were the people on the Committee with probably the most experience in the technical slaughter of deer. The most difficult task was that of the ballistic experts, because having once decided what should be possible, with the anti-cruelty well in mind, and the safety and the non-safety of the high-powered rifle, we forgot that there were also some people who owned foreign rifles; and the ballistic gentlemen had to start work all over again.

I wish that my father's great friend the late Lord Winterton could have been here to see this Bill begin its life in your Lordships' House to-day. It embodies a plan that was always very dear to his heart, and I hope that it will have a satisfactory progress. Lord Winterton, I would also add, was one of the greatest masters of foxhounds we ever had in Sussex. I should like to point out that the Bill was given a vast amount of time in another place, where it was carefully considered, and certain Amendments were adopted. What it does is to enable the deer family to produce their young in comfort, and in safe conditions, and the stags to grow their horns at the appropriate times of the year—always provided that they do not commit any major crime of crop destruction, a stipulation that is very much appreciated by many of us who in these days are rather intensive farmers. The Bill lays particular stress on the vital point of the protection of wild life in the right proportion to the various parts of England, a matter which I know appeals to all your Lordships. It also proves the most important point, which again will appeal to many of your Lordships: that the sportsman is the greatest conservationist of all.

2.3 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill as giving a little much-needed protection to the deer in England and Wales. I do not think that it goes far enough, but there are many interests to reconcile; and we must not forget (I think this is right) that the original sponsor of this Bill drafted it from the point of view of the preservation of field sports. So it would be unreasonable to try to reverse the whole thing in this House. It is a good start towards the preservation and protection of deer, and even if it went through without any Amendment, I should still think it was a valuable Bill.

The Bill prohibits night shooting, trapping or poisoning, shooting with injurious weapons and shooting from motor cars. Close seasons are introduced for all deer except the roebuck. I do not think that the reasons for this exemption are very cogent. I suppose the original reason for the close season of stags in Scotland was that when they were shot they should have good heads as trophies, with fully grown antlers, and no velvet. But supposing that that was the case, I can see no real reason why the roebuck should not have similar protection, though, of course, if he grows his horns at a different time from other deer then his close season might differ from that of the others.

There is one point that has not been mentioned about the exemption of the roe deer from the close season clause, and that is that anybody shooting one of the other three kinds of deer during that close season would be able to say that it was a mistake; that it was in thick bushes, and he thought it was a roe deer. He might get off on that plea. There is one thing about the close season which is very important—I think it is the most important thing in the whole of the Bill—and that is that the close season for hinds and does in England and Wales does not begin early enough. Owing to the difference in climate, I suppose they generally drop their young three weeks to a month earlier than is the case in Scotland. I think there is a strong case for putting forward the beginning of the close season for hinds and does to February 1. Incidentally, it would also help to abolish the rather horrible practice of hunting pregnant does in March. So I should be strongly in favour of putting forward the beginning of the close season to February 1.

Of course, all these points would really fall to be discussed in full detail during the Committee stage, but there are some which I think could fairly be brought forward now. One of the others is the question of the prohibition of certain arms and ammunition listed in Schedule 2 of the Bill. It seems to me that the practice of horizontal shooting with high-powered rifles is a very dangerous one, and I should like to see the shotgun permitted, provided that the lethal bullet is used. The large type of buckshot (I have forgotten what it is called) scatters and makes a very bad pattern, but the lethal bullet is a very deadly projectile. It is used for shooting dangerous game in India and other places.

The objection to such a course is that anybody using a lethal bullet in a shotgun requires a firearms certificate. I do not see any harm in that: I think it is a very good thing. It will prevent a great deal of this casual shooting by inexpert marksmen which results in the wounding of so many deer. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, that an experienced forestry marksman said that no fewer than 60 per cent. of the deer which he shot showed old wounds from shotguns; and that is a rather terrible state of affairs. So I would say that it was for consideration whether the use of the high-powered rifle, at any rate, should be recommended in conjunction with the high seat, and that the shotgun with lethal bullets should be legalised for horizontal shooting on the ground and in woods.

Additions to the Bill might include a deer-control authority, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Crook. This is, I think, a rather novel idea and it is difficult to see precisely what its functions would be and how it would exercise them. But the idea seems to be worth consideration, because at the present moment the deer are "nobody's children" and it would be a good thing to have some kind of body which had direct responsibility for looking after them. I am one of those who would like to see deer-hunting with packs of hounds entirely abolished. I think that if such a body were formed it should cover the sporting interests, and the interests of the Nature Conservancy, the Forestry Commission, land owners, farmers, market gardeners and animal-protection societies. There is plenty of work to be done by such an authority in the proper management and protection of wild deer which at present belong to nobody; but I fear that public opinion requires further education before such a body would come into the field of practical politics.

The hunting of carted deer, however, falls into a rather different category. I think it is a thoroughly unsporting procedure. The deer themselves, because they are liberated in strange country, often run into barbed wire, entangle themselves and are cut very badly. Furthermore, if the deer takes a line across country infested with barbed wire then the field do not get much of a run. And it seems to me that a well conducted drag hunt would have great advantages over this practice of hunting the carted deer. Again, I would say that whatever Amendments may or may not be introduced at the Committee stage, I think this Bill as it stands is a very valuable instrument as, at any rate, a starting point for looking after and preserving the interests of the wild deer of England and Wales.

2.15 p.m.


My Lords, I would agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, said in his concluding remarks. I think this Bill will do a very valuable service in establishing close seasons for deer and in placing restrictions on the methods to be used in killing them. I should like to take up a couple of points which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned during his speech. When he was talking about the bodies which were represented on the working party sponsored by the British Field Sports Society, he said that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were not given an opportunity to be represented. That is not quite so; because I have here a Memorandum on the Bill circulated by the British Field Sports Society in which they say: In their evidence to the Scott Henderson Committee the R.S.P.C.A. made their position clear in relation to irresponsible shooting, and as they were not actually involved in the earlier Bill or the management of deer they were not represented on the Working Party. The Bill before your Lordships now is based broadly on the recommendations of the Scott Henderson Committee on which the R.S.P.C.A. were represented.

The other point raised by the noble Lord was that he said that the Bill does not prohibit the shooting of deer with shot-gun cartridges loaded with small shot. With due respect to the noble Lord, I must say that is not so. If he will read Schedule 2 to the Bill he will see that the type of cartridge to be used in smooth bore weapons is clearly defined and does not include any size of shot which could, by any stretch of the imagination, be used for shooting small game.

Your Lordships may like a little amplification of some of the aspects of the Bill dealing with weapons and ammunition, in particular the clause relating to muzzle energy. This is a common term in ballistic circles and means the striking energy developed at the muzzle by any given bullet or cartridge. It is expressed in foot pounds, and is easily calculated when the weight of the bullet and its muzzle velocity are known. I think it is very desirable for this Bill to include such a provision as that in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 which lays down the minimum muzzle energy for rifle cartridges. The difficulty here is the question of enforcement of the clause. If the village policeman caught up with somebody whom he suspected of being in possession of arms and ammunition which are prohibited under this Bill, I should be most surprised if he knew enough about firearms to be able to tell, first, the calibre of the rifle and, secondly, the power of the rifle; in other words, whether it came within the permitted scope of the Bill. It would be possible for somebody carrying a rifle of an inadequate calibre with which he intended to shoot deer, to have in his pocket a couple of cartridges of a permitted calibre which he may have collected, acquired, scrounged or got hold of in some other way, and to produce them to the policeman, saying, "These are my cartridges; they are legal." Unless the policeman knew more than just a little about firearms, he would be hard put to it to determine whether or not that person was carrying a permitted weapon.

Then, supposing that the constable took into his possession a rifle and the cartridges which were to be fired from it, how is the muzzle energy to be determined? The only way to determine it is to test fire the weapon and measure the muzzle velocity by means of a ballistic pendulum or a chronograph and thence calculate the muzzle energy. I do not know how many chronographs or ballistic pendulums there are in this country. I do not think there are many. Nor can there be many people who are sufficiently skilled or trained in their use. They need skilled operation. How easily those facilities would be available to the police for testing impounded weapons and ammunition, I do not know; but it is a rather serious weakness in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, mentioned the use of lethal ball cartridges in shot-guns. Here I am bound to say that I agree with him, because the shotgun used with shot, even of the sizes permitted in this Bill, is comparatively ineffective. It is effective only at a short distance with SSG shot—20 to 25 yards. Beyond that distance the pellets have neither the power nor penetration to inflict a disabling wound on the deer, nor are they grouped closely enough to ensure that a vital part of the animal is hit. The solid ball is very widely used on the continent of Europe and, I believe, in the U.S.A., and it is a very effective cartridge indeed for the shooting of deer and wild boar, for which purpose they use it on the Continent.

The Scott Henderson Report itself says: The shooting of deer with shot-guns must inevitably be accompanied by a great deal of suffering". That has been mentioned earlier by other noble Lords in this debate, and is the case particularly when cartridges loaded with what might conveniently be described as "bird-shot" are used. Even with cartridges loaded with large shot, SSG or larger, if the shot is taken at too great a distance there is very great danger that the animal will get away wounded. I do not think that this Bill goes quite far enough in this respect, and I should like to see, so far as concerns smooth bore weapons, small shot prohibited altogether and only the use of lethal ball or rifled slug being allowed.

While a suitable rifle is the most humane weapon, if a shot-gun must be used I think that a ball cartridge, especially for red deer, should be the only one allowed. Admittedly, it needs a firearms certificate, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, said, I do not think that this would be a bad thing, as some measure of control would then be exercised over those who would be entrusted with the control of deer. The Forestry Commission, for instance, are very closely concerned in the control of deer, and I feel sure that they would not allow any of their employees to go out and shoot deer in order to reduce their numbers unless they were well satisfied that the person was able to kill the deer effectively and humanely and that he used a weapon suitable for the purpose.

It may not be generally realised just how powerful a ball cartridge in a shotgun is. This Bill lays down a minimum muzzle energy of 1,700 foot lb. As an example, the muzzle energy developed by the .303 service cartridge is in the neighbourhood of 2,300 foot lb.; the muzzle energy of a solid ball in a 12-bore shot-gun may be anything from 2,400 to 2,700 foot lb. Admittedly, it does not maintain its velocity over a great distance, owing to its poor ballistic shape and very curved trajectory. The maximum effective range of one of those cartridges would be about 50 yards, but up to that distance it would certainly deliver a disabling blow to a deer, even if it was not hit in an immediately vital spot.

As regards the danger of the solid ball, admittedly it has a range of approximately a mile. If it were fired horizontally, as it would be in most cases, if it missed the deer, and missed any trees that were around—in other words, if it were allowed to continue on an uninterrupted course until it hit the ground—it would hit the ground in the space of about 200 yards. At that distance it would have lost a considerable amount of velocity; and even if it did ricochet, it would not go very far. It is only when the shot is fired at a considerable elevation so as to reach its extreme range, that it could be dangerous, and in that respect the ordinary rifle would be more dangerous than the solid ball from a shotgun, because it would go further. My Lords, I think I have said enough about that point.

There is one other point that I would make. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, a short while ago Imperial Metal Industries said that they were going to cease all production of centre-fire rifle and pistol ammunition. From many points of view, that is extremely unfortunate: it means that we shall now have to be dependent, at least for the time being, on imported ammunition. If they had still been producing commercial rifle ammunition I am quite sure that, with the passing of this Bill, they would have taken it upon themselves to see that they did not produce any rifle cartridges, capable of being used against deer, which did not fall within the provisions of this Bill. Now that they are ceasing production there will be no such certainty. We shall be relying on imported ammunition, and with the less powerful cartridges—those which are marginal cases under this Bill—there will be no guarantee that certain of them will not fall outside the provisions of this Bill. And although freely available on the commercial market, they may not be suitable for the purpose.

My Lords, I think I have taken up enough of your Lordships' time, and I will finish by saying that this Bill is very desirable. It fills a gap in providing for the humane killing of deer, and although it has certain weaknesses I am sure that they can be overcome in due course, either at a later stage or, perhaps after the passing of the Bill, by an Order in Council. I commend the Bill to your Lordships as a very big step forward in the treatment and management of deer.

2.34 p.m.


My Lords, this seems to me to be a sportsman's Bill. It is a very difficult subject because it involves many interests with different points of view. There are the people who are interested in the preservation of nature, who want to see the deer in this country preserved and, if possible, their numbers increased. Then there are the foresters and the farmers who, in some cases, would like to see deer exterminated. One can understand the point of view of a man who has grown crops with great difficulty and finds overnight that a large part of them have been destroyed or eaten by deer. Then there are people who are interested in hunting deer, who would like to preserve a limited number. These are the people who shoot deer out of sport. Then, in lesser numbers in this country than in Scotland, there are those who poach deer in order to sell them on the market and who naturally would like to see as many deer as possible.

There is also, of course, the humanitarian point of view, which insists that, if we are going to keep and preserve deer, they should be allowed relatively happy and free lives, and that if they are to be killed they should be killed as humanely as possible. It is difficult to argue to a humanitarian that hunting deer—chasing it for a long time and then cutting its throat—is a humane way of despatch, and I must say that I agree with the humanitarian point of view; I do not think it is. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has said, present public opinion supports it, and there is nothing we can do about it. But we should recognise that this Bill is a compromise measure. I imagine that all of us in this House, apart from the controversial issue of hunting the deer, would wish to prevent any cruelty or suffering to these animals, which can possibly be avoided, particularly by indiscriminate shooting of deer as a result of which these unfortunate, wounded and mutilated animals are eventually found half dead and in a dreadful condition. It is from this point of view, I think, that this Bill has its greatest importance.

I suggest that the main things to be said for the Bill are, first, that the deer are going to be protected. Up to now deer have been considered wild animals, nobody's responsibility, and have been completely unprotected. I think that is one great point of the Bill: it brings deer into the category of those animals for whom we are concerned. The second great point of the Bill is that it attempts to limit indiscriminate shooting, often by unskilled marksmen, which causes a great deal of suffering. Lastly, and perhaps most important, it introduces a close season for most species, during which the deer can breed. However, I hope that during the Committee stage of the Bill we shall see some alterations.

I should like to apologise and say how sorry I am that I was not able to be here this morning to hear the noble Viscount introduce the Bill, but I shall attentively read his speech in Hansard. However, I should like to say I do not see why we should not have a deer authority or deer commission which could be responsible for studying this subject and looking after the deer in our forests. This may have been argued this morning, and I would be very much in favour of it.

I do not want to argue the following points; I want merely to state very briefly what I hope will result from Amendments during the Committee stage. I personally should like to see a provision to the effect that a licence must be issued to people who wish to kill deer, so that no one could do so without a licence; or, alternatively, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, said, that a firearms certificate should be granted for the purpose. For that reason, I would much prefer the rifle to be the only weapon allowed for the shooting of deer. But if, as I understand, the rifle is considered to be too dangerous over flat spaces, I would agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, said in his speech (which I thought was an extremely well-informed and interesting one), that we must allow smooth-bore guns but only to be used with a lethal cartridge or slug and not allow bird shot or any lesser bore of gun.

There are two other points. The first is that I do not see why the roebuck should be excluded. We know that they can do quite a lot of damage. But I do not see why there should not be a close season for them too; and I suspect they are excluded because there are certain interests who like to shoot them early in the year when nothing else can be shot. Whatever is the reason, I am sure they ought to be brought into the Bill and given a reasonable close season. Lastly, I hope that we can put back the date of the close season to, say, something like February 1. I understand that the breeding season here is different from that in Scotland, owing perhaps to climatic temperature and other differences; but I think the hunting of the deer later than February 1 is a mistake. I hope that someone will introduce an Amendment to alter the date of the close season and I would suggest February 1. However, hoping that some of these alterations, which I am sure would be good ones, may be brought into the Bill I would, like many of your Lordships, give it a warm welcome and hope it will be passed.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express very shortly my strong support for this Bill. It may not do everything that everyone would like; and it may not do everything it does in a way that everybody likes; nevertheless, it has received a surprising measure of assent from a very great variety of interests. It has the strong support in principle of various organisations with which I am concerned: the Council for Nature, the Fauna Preservation Society, and the Nature Conservancy itself. If I may, I would suggest to your Lordships that in a matter of this kind we shall make more effective progress by taking such steps as to secure a general measure of consent than by attempting something more which may be controversial and, in some respects, premature.

I am one of those who think that it was a very important step forward when the law was altered in relation to Scotland and a Deer Commission was set up. Under good scientific guidance it has worked very successfully, and I believe that it has given general satisfaction. But I feel that any step of that kind would be premature in England and Wales: although we may at some time reach the stage when such a step could usefully be taken, I am confident that we have not yet reached it. Here, with all the interests concerned, I feel that the promoters of the Bill have been wise in restricting its scope, as they have done; and for my own part I hope it will be generally accepted that we should not interfere with the long-established sports of the countryside—an issue which does not really arise out of the essential features of the measure. It is a great step forward that at last we are having a Bill which protects the deer and secures their humane treatment and, at the same time, recognises the fact that they have to be controlled. In Scotland, control is necessary in the interests of the deer themselves. I think it is equally so in this country; and the legitimate protection that agriculture and forestry need has clearly to be recognised—especially in view of the growth of some of the smaller species of deer, the roe in particular, and possibly some of the imported species. I would submit that the Bill is in no sense a measure for the protection of sportsmen; it is a genuine measure for the protection of deer, and marks a sensible and scientific step forward in conservation.

I would add only one further point. In the past, I have had a good deal to do with many European naturalists and I have had the pleasure of taking some of them round this country. They have always expressed amazement that Great Britain, which has led the world in so many respects in the protection of natural life and in the practice of sport in a really sportsmanlike spirit, should have left these most interesting and largest items of our fauna in England and Wales completely unprotected, with very little protection on the humanitarian side and none at all in respect of close seasons. I am very glad, on this account alone, that at last Parliament is able to deal with this situation.

I think we are all indebted to the honourable Members in another place, to the noble Lords in this House and to all the voluntary organisations, for having reached this measure of agreement, which will enable us to remove what has been a legitimate source of criticism of our practice in this respect from other countries, who in most respects are so far behind us. Therefore, I give the Bill my strong support and hope that it may reach the Statute Book before the end of this Session.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said a great many of the things I was going to say and so I shall be brief. I should like to say that I speak only on my own behalf and not for anybody else. I think it is the greatest pity that the occasion has been taken on this Bill, which is purely humanitarian, to drag in the question of British field sports and of hunting. It was my fortune to be brought up upon Exmoor, where deer have been hunted from time immemorial. I was brought up to be a sportsman, and the essential of being a sportsman is to be humane. All sportsmen—and I think here that I am speaking for stag-hunters and fox-hunters and everybody else—abhor any form of cruelty. I am not getting carried away, but there has been a Commission, which has decided that hunting must go on in the interests of deer and foxes. So it is the greatest pity that the opportunity has been taken to try to make an anti-hunting Bill of this measure.

There are two minor things I would mention on the question of close seasons. The noble and gallant Air Marshal, Lord Dowding, said that he objected to the hunting of hinds in March. I would point cut that the close season in the Bill starts on March 1. Secondly, I do not think that anyone wants to hunt, shoot or deal in any way with stags during and after the rut. Then, the stag is quite incapable of helping himself, and, in any case, he is inedible. I welcome the Bill and follow heartily behind what the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, said.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, with practically every speaker who has spoken in your Lordships' House to-day, I give whole-hearted welcome to this Bill, but there are one or two details on which I am at variance with several noble Lords. I am not going to mention the smaller ones, but will go at once to the Schedules. First of all, in regard to the close season, I entirely agree that, on the one hand, it should be advanced for hinds and does to a considerably earlier period, and, on the other hand, that the roebuck ought to have a close season, too. It must be recognised that the roe can be an extremely mischievous animal, dangerous to the growth, and almost to the existence, of young woods. At the same time, he a most attractive little beast—so much so, that I myself have fenced with deer fencing most of my larger new plantations in order to avoid the otherwise absolute necessity of keeping the numbers of roe down to a very low level, if not to exterminate them altogether.

The damage done by the roe is almost entirely with his horns, and not with his teeth. He does nip off the tops of a few young trees if he gets a chance, but my experience is that such damage is not sufficiently great to be worthy of serious consideraton. But when the buck is getting his horns, and the antlers are engorged with blood and are itchy, then he rushes about the woods rubbing those horns on young trees, for which purpose he usually chooses trees of anything from three-quarters of an inch to two inches in diameter. He often completely ring-marks them, and the number of dead or dying trees that one finds on a plantation, simply from this use of the horns, is surprising.

Usually he begins to get his horns about Christmastime, although I have seen them as early as November. By the time a close season would be introduced, comparable to other deer there would be no reason why he should be a nuisance at all, so far as his horns are concerned. They would have been comfortable for a long time past. Therefore, I think these deer should be given the benefit of this protection, always bearing in mind that it is possible for any owner or occupier to take steps against them if they are found to be too numerous or doing damage at other times.

Where my main controversy arises is in regard to the prohibited firearms and ammunition—in fact, the general use of the particular type of firearm. If it is a question of sport, there is no doubt that all deer should be shot solely with a rifle; and in order to avoid, in comparatively inhabited country, the danger of so-called horizontal shooting, the desirable thing is that, where one cannot get a bank against which to fire, one should have platforms built so as to get plunging fire and render one's shots innocuous to the neighbourhood. That can be done only on properties where the deer are regarded from a sporting point of view. I think there has been rather a lack of perception in your Lordships' House this afternoon of the fact that when most deer are shot in order to preserve crops or woods they are shot by driving woods, often in the course of the ordinary day's duty.

Were I going out merely to shoot roe—an unpleasant but, unfortunately, unavoidable necessity—the ideal weapon that I should use would not be a rifle, and it would not be even the shotgun with aspherical or hollow bore. First of all, snap shooting with a shotgun, a single bullet, is a very difficult thing and requires an expert shot. My noble friend Lord Swansea might be able to do it, but I doubt whether the rest of us here could. Furthermore, unless the shooting is taking place in very open country one has to look over one's shoulder all the time to see that there is no one within several hundred yards. As my noble friend Lord Swansea said, the possible range of solid ball is about a mile, which is roughly the equivalent of a .22 rifle with a long cartridge. At, say, 1,000 yards, I would far rather be hit by a .22 bullet than a plunging 12-bore solid.


I would remind my noble friend of what I said. I said that the extreme range of a solid ball from a shotgun is about a mile if fired at an extreme angle of elevation. But I think I said that the shot fired more or less horizontally, as it would be from a standing man against a deer roughly on the same level as himself, if it missed the deer, and did not hit anything else on the way, would fall to the ground in about 200 to 250 yards.


The noble Lord overlooked the fact that not everyone can contain himself. People are sometimes apt to fire slightly uphill, and if the deer happen to be downhill the other side, the range of the bullet might be a great deal more. It might be several times 200 or 300 yards, and then it becomes a very dangerous weapon. Accuracy is also extremely difficult. If I were setting out for the purpose of shooting deer in woods or not very open country, the weapon I should use would be the 12-bore shot-gun, preferably a 3-inch chamber gun, and the shot I should use would not be the immense slugs mentioned in the Bill, but something like AA shot, 40 to the ounce, the reason being, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, said, that the pattern of this very large shot is extremely bad.

I made experiments during the war on behalf of the Home Guard, when one put up targets which were supposed to represent the Hun, and it was extraordinary, even at comparatively short range, how often that target was missed altogether, and how seldom there was more than one large bullet which struck it. The mass effect of a dozen AA pellets striking a deer at 30 or 40 yards—personally, I should not fire at more than 25 yards—is infinitely more satisfactory than one or two large pellets, which in any case might not hit a vital spot. Even with a small deer like a roe, there is quite a lot of roe where a hit does not make a vital wound. It is for that reason that I feel it must be recognised that, in order to keep deer in control safely, one must legislate for the use of a shot-gun. I, personally, should like to see a decidedly smaller-size shot allowed. With these comments, which I hope are not too destructive, in common with the rest of your Lordships I welcome this Bill, which is going to do something which ought to have been done long ago for the benefit of most of our interesting wild life. I see no reason whatever for setting up a Deer Commission. We have already the Nature Conservancy, and I think it is to them that the task should be entrusted.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill offers for the first time, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, pointed out, a limited measure of legal protection for the largest and most beautiful of our wild animals in England and Wales. For that reason, every noble Lord who has taken part in this debate—and I have heard the whole or part of all the speeches which have been made—has welcomed its introduction. I would add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, for the clear and painstaking way in which he explained the Bill. He mentioned that Scotland had this protective legislation in 1959. Those of us who live South of the Border cannot allow Scotsmen to go on out-stripping us in this way.

This is a Bill which bears on its face the stamp of compromise. As the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, pointed out, it is in fact a compromise between all the main interests concerned—humanitarian, farming, nature conservation and sporting. I think these main interests have been reflected in the views expressed by noble Lords in the course of the debate. Now, of course, humanitarians complain that the Bill does nothing about deer hunting by staghounds. I was not very impressed by the arguments of the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, that this was the only way of controlling the deer population in certain parts of the country. Would he not agree that, although you need hounds to catch and kill the deer in certain parts of the country, you need not necessarily have an organised hunt as well?

But I think most noble Lords took the view that they themselves did not like deer hunting or did not approve of it—and I am one of those myself—and also took the view that whether or not you ban this sport must depend on public opinion. Obviously, you do not want to pass a law banning a sport because it is cruel unless you have public opinion behind you. If one just looks at what happened in the past, it easily bears out this view. Three or four hundred years ago we had cock-fighting and bear baiting in this country, but no one would tolerate those sports now. They are banned by law. At the moment bull-fighting is a popular pastime on the Continent but is illegal here. These sports are recognised by public opinion to be cruel and are, therefore, prohibited by law. But I do not think myself—and I share the views of my noble friend Lord Huntingdon and the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb—that we have reached the moment when public opinion wishes this sport to be made illegal. However, I think that one of the functions of Parliament is to educate public opinion, and it is a very good thing that some of your Lordships have expressed such a strong view against deer hunting, which view has also been expressed in another place.

At the same time I am sure none of us would wish to appear prigs in this matter and we must admit that there are plenty of people outside Parliament from whom we ourselves have a great deal to learn. But it is a very good thing that there is no proposal in this Bill to ban deer hunting, for it certainly would not have survived the first test in another place. On the other hand, I do think—and the weight of opinion expressed in this debate was in this sense—that the Bill should give more protection to deer than it offers at the moment, and this protection is needed both in relation to weapons that are used to kill deer and in relation to the close season for the protection of the species.

There was a great deal of discussion about the use of the shot-gun. Some noble Lords took the view that the shotgun should be banned, which is the case, I believe, in Denmark and Western Germany, both of which are agricultural countries which produce a great deal of food and have woodlands and deer as well. In those countries, at any rate, it looks as though agricultural interests do not suffer because the use of the shot-gun is prohibited. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, who suggested the other alternative of allowing a shot-gun to be used but without shot; that is to say, with a solid ball or rifle slug. That is clearly the other alternative if you want to kill deer in the most humane way. But neither of these alternatives is offered by the Bill. I think everyone would agree that the weight of the evidence shows that the shot-gun is effecting an enormous amount of unnecessary pain and suffering in deer at the present time. The Scott-Henderson Report, as the noble Lord, Lord Swansea reminded us, confirms this, and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, who mentioned the facts reported by the Forestry Commission about the number of animals among those killed by the Forestry Commission which had been previously wounded by lead pellets.

On the question of the close season, there is the poor, lonely roebuck. I suppose that, as a male, I may be slightly prejudiced, but it seems rather hard that he alone among the male members of the species, should not have the three months which other members are allowed, when they are free from pursuit by sportsmen or people protecting crops or wishing to keep down the deer population. But the strongest case of all is that made out by my noble friend Lord Huntingdon for advancing by one month the close season for hinds, bringing it forward from March 1, which is the date in the Bill, to February 1. The date in the Scottish Act, I think, is February 16. So that hinds in Scotland are protected a fortnight earlier than is proposed for those in England.

Surely that cannot be reasonable: because the climate in Scotland is a good deal colder, and it must therefore be the case that in England hinds have their young at an earlier date than they would have done in Scotland. I think the idea of killing or shooting a large animal like this in an advanced state of pregnancy, or when it already has its young, is repugnant to all of us, and this can be prevented only if the date is brought forward by, say, one month, which would make England only a fortnight earlier in this respect than Scotland.

I hope that Amendments on these lines may be put down at a later stage of the Bill. I am sure your Lordships will agree that no Bill that comes to this House is absolutely perfect, and it is one of our most useful functions to improve Bills that come to us in any ways that appear to be desirable. It is perfectly certain that we do not want to make any alteration that would involve the fate of the Bill. We certainly do not want to jeopardise its passage through Parliament at this late stage in the Session, but I very much hope that some of the alterations which many of your Lordships would like will be made at a later stage. And I certainly hope that the noble Viscount will be successful in getting this Bill passed into law.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House, and indeed all animal lovers, are indebted to my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for sponsoring this measure, and I also think we are indebted to him for doing so in his speech at Second Reading so fully and so ably. Being one of those Members of your Lordships' House to-day who are perhaps less well informed at first hand about this matter, I am grateful, too, for the very well-informed observations which have been made on this Bill by a number of your Lordships who are obviously very well informed about this matter. It has certainly added greatly to my knowledge. I have learned about poaching by helicopter, which I was not aware of before. I have learned a great deal from my noble friend Lord Mansfield about the more mischievous habits of the roebuck, and something about the relative lethality of SSG and LG pellets, which I was also not very well up in, and about the plunging effect of 12-bore solid shot. On that I do not want to go much deeper because I feel that these inner mysteries of the art of ballistics are perhaps best left to my noble friends behind me.

The law as it stands—and this was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon—does in fact at present offer little or no protection to deer in England and Wales. This Bill, if it becomes law, will, as my noble friend explained, go some way towards bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland. Some may think, with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that it is perhaps unfortunate that the English and Welsh should have lagged so far behind the Scots in this matter. Your Lordships will recall, however, that while the Committee on Cruelty, the Scott-Henderson Committee, made a specific recommendation in their 1951 Report that there should be a statutory close season for deer in Scotland, they made no corresponding recommendation so far as England and Wales are concerned. The Committee thus recognised that the Scottish problem was a more urgent one, and I myself therefore think it was right it should have been dealt with first.

Nevertheless, I am sure your Lordships will agree that the interval which has passed during which the present Bill has been produced has been put to good use. You will doubtless remember that, despite the very clear recommendation of the Scott-Henderson Committee for a close season in Scotland, no little difficulty (to put it mildly) was found in getting the various interested bodies to agree about the merits of a close season there. That being so, I should also like to congratulate those who have worked on the preparation of this Bill on having arrived at agreed proposals on the close seasons which are, I understand—this was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb—in the main, generally acceptable to all the interested bodies and organisations.


My Lords, I believe it is correct to say—I think the noble Earl will agree with this—that all the animal welfare societies want a longer and extended close season for hinds.


That may be so. Doubtless this is one of the points in the Bill to which your Lordships will wish to give further attention on Committee. On the question of the close season, it is quite obvious that nature creates a clear need, on humanitarian grounds, for a close season for hinds at certain times of the year. With the male deer the need may not be so obvious at first sight. However, as many noble Lords have explained, the "velvet" which covers the growing horn is extremely sensitive and damage to it can therefore cause acute pain. Unless deer can remain undisturbed while they are "in velvet", there is a risk of damage to the horn and of consequent suffering. I therefore find myself in sympathy with both Clause 1 and Schedule 1 of this Bill, without going into the precise details of the timings, and indeed of the particular categories which are included there.

The same sort of humanitarian considerations underlie the case for the imposition of nightly close times under Clause 2. This clause should, I feel, be of great value in preventing much of the suffering which must inevitably be caused to deer when they are shot during the hours of darkness, but are not mortally wounded, and therefore cannot be followed up and despatched. I was struck here by the illustration of the sort of suffering which is caused, which I think was given by my noble friend, that over 60 per cent. of the deer culled each year in the Forestry Commission's forests already often carry shot of small calibre. I think it is quite clear from such evidence as I have seen, that many of these poor animals must have lived, often for months, in a maimed and mutilated condition and must have suffered greatly.

This brings me to the weapons provisions in Clause 3 and in Schedule 2. As a glance at them shows, they are complex and they go beyond the comparable provisions in the Scottish Act of 1959. The original provisions of the Bill when it was introduced in another place, were even more complex, but they have been modified to overcome some of the more difficult problems, above all of enforcement, which they appear likely to give rise to. I think it is clear in any event, that if we are to succeed in eliminating the suffering at present caused to deer by the use of unsuitable weapons and ammunition, these rather detailed provisions are going to be quite unavoidable. But on the precise details of the type of cartridge and other matters, I, for one, would like from the Government's point of view, between now and our Committee stage, to give close attention to what has been said in this debate to-day and I am sure that those other noble Lords who are interested in this matter would also wish to do the same.


My Lords, can the noble Earl on this point give us any guidance at all in regard to the issuing of a firearms certificate? Is there any objection to a firearms certificate being issued?


My Lords, I should prefer not at this stage. I should like to reserve my ammuniton on this point until we get to the Committee stage, and meanwhile look at this whole question more closely.

In regard to penalties in Clause 8, the Bill, as originally drafted, provided for more severe penalties if two or more persons acting together engaged in night shooting or the use of prohibited weapons. In this respect it follows Section 24 of the Deer (Scotland) Act which was designed to deal with the problem of gang poaching organised on a commercial basis in Scotland. The taking of deer by such gangs involved considerable cruelty. While I understand that indiscriminate shooting of deer by two or more people together sometimes takes place in England and Wales—there were reports of this type of thing in the Lake District in 1951, and in the Quantocks in 1959 and 1961—there is no evidence, so far as I know, to suggest that it is common or organised on a commercial basis. In these circumstances, there is not, in the Government's view at least, any justification for retaining in the Bill these very drastic penalties and forfeiture provisions which were originally provided. We feel that, on balance, the Bill is the better for their deletion.

I do not think that at this stage it would be right for me to try to add anything more to what has been said by other noble Lords speaking with a great deal of knowledge on this matter. Some noble Lords feel—and this view has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Crook—that the present Bill does not go far enough. I think he took the most extreme position in that respect, but other noble Lords have also felt that in certain respects the Bill should go somewhat further. But, be that as it may, I should like to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, has said, that this seems a sensible and scientific step forward. And, in any event, there is little doubt that if this Bill becomes law it will do much to reduce the suffering at present inflicted on deer by indiscriminate shooting—by shooting at night (when wounded animals cannot be followed up), by killing hinds when suckling (thus leaving calves to starve), and by the use of inadequate weapons which maim and mutilate but do not kill outright. In that respect, speaking personally, I welcome the Bill in that it will undoubtedly reduce the suffering inflicted on what is certainly one of the most attractive and most interesting species of wild animals which inhabit our islands.

My Lords, this is a Private Member's measure and it is for you to decide whether or not to give my noble friend's Bill a Second Reading. It will equally be for your Lordships to decide on the fate of the various Amendments which I think it has been foreshadowed may well be moved at Committee stage. However, before I sit down I should like to make it quite clear that the Government has no desire whatever—to put it no higherx2014;to impede the further progress of this clearly humanitarian measure.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down could he reply to me—and it may be that there is no Government view on them—on the two points I raised, in particular the question of carted deer, which has not been mentioned at all?


My Lords, as regards carted deer I was rather at pains to steer a little clear of the whole question of hunting. Here I would echo the views expressed on both sides of your Lordships' House, that whatever we may feel on the merits or demerits of hunting, there is clearly not a sufficient consensus of public opinion in the country at the present time for us, in the context of this Bill, to decide one way or the other. On the specific question of carting, I think I should also like to make my observations brief. I felt that, in talking about the habit of carting deer for the two Hunts which I think do cart deer, the noble Lord in one respect was—I am sure quite unwittingly—a trifle misleading in what he said. He quoted some words in the Scott-Henderson Report of 1951 to the effect that the carting of deer in this way fulfils no useful function. It is quite true that that Report said that, but I think it is also right, since it has been quoted and since I have been specifically questioned on this particular point, that I should just read the whole sentence from which that extract came. The sentence is to be found in paragraph 239 of the Scott-Henderson Report, and it reads: We are not satisfied from the evidence which we have received that there is a sufficient degree of cruelty in this sport to justify legislation to prohibit it, and therefore while we cannot say that it fulfils a useful function"— the words quoted by the noble Lord— other than the provision of recreation, we do not find it necessary to make any recommendation about it. The Scott-Henderson Committee not having made any recommendation about it, having considered the matter very seriously and attentively, I myself should also prefer not to make any recommendation about it to your Lordships this afternoon.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have been told to be very brief and I shall be, but might I just point out first of all to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, that there is only one carted deer Hunt in the country now? The mid-Kent pack stopped about two years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Crook, spoke about stag hunting as carried out on Exmoor. Apparently, he cannot have read the Report of the Scott-Henderson Committee, because they laid down that it was necessary for the control and conservation of the red deer on Exmoor. The noble Lord, Lord Crook, said quite rightly that the Forestry Commission are extremely enlightened in their deer management, on which I quite agree. But I would point out to the noble Lord that the Forestry Commission employs hounds themselves to hunt deer.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whom I was extremely pleased to see supporting the Bill so warmly, said—I may have misunderstood—that he did not object to professional, paid people following deer with hounds, but he did object to people following hounds if they were not paid. I cannot quite understand that.


I am sorry; I am sure it is my fault, but I do not think the noble Viscount has understood me correctly. What I said was that hunting is not indispensable for the control of the deer population. Very often, as the noble Lord himself said, hounds or dogs must be used—they are used by the Forestry Commission—but you can use hounds or dogs without having an organised hunt at the same time. That was my point.


In other words, what the noble Lord objects to is not the hunting of animals by hounds, but the enjoyment of people following the hounds. I think I am correct in that assumption. Anyway, my Lords, I said that I should be brief, but I would just point out, with regard to having a deer control commission in England, that it is not practical in England as it is in Scotland, because in England the total deer population is only about 40,000, whereas in Scotland it is 200,000. So there is really no need for a deer control commission.

I quite agree with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Mansfield, and I think one or two other noble Lords, about roebuck not being protected. I think it is a pity, but we have to remember that this Bill is a compromise, and that we have had to take into account the views of all sorts of people and of all sorts of organisations. It is not, of course, a perfect Bill, but it is a start. Another point made by some noble Lords was with regard to the Schedule dealing with weapons. I agree that perhaps it can be improved upon, but I should like to point out that Clause 3(4) states: The Secretary of State may by order amend the said Schedule 2 by adding any firearm or ammunition or by altering the description of, or deleting, any firearm or ammunition mentioned in that Schedule". Therefore, my Lords, the Bill already covers that point. If it is proved that the weapons clause in the Schedule can be improved upon, the Secretary of State has power to do that.

With regard to hinds, it has been suggested that hinds ought to have the close season put back, to have an extra month from February 1 instead of March 1. I have seen hinds shot in February. Several noble Lords have said they are heavy in pregnancy then, but in actual fact that is not so; they are not heavy in pregnancy. With regard to carted deer, there is something that has not been pointed out. I happen to know that a mid-Kent stag hunt, when they existed, had two or three deer there which they hunted for years and years. They always ran the same line. I know it may seem rather absurd to your Lordships to say so, but, honestly, I think that two or three of these old deer really enjoyed it. The hounds do not harm them, and the instant the deer gets tired he stands at bay and the hounds do not touch him. He runs into a yard, and then he is taken home, where he is given a week or two's rest.


Is the noble Viscount suggesting that the stag or the deer enjoys that?


I do not think they object to it after they get used to it. I personally do not particularly approve of carted stag hunting; I would just as soon have a drag-hunt—but we are really off the point here. I should like to end by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their support, and particularly my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for his sympathetic reception of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.