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Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007.

The noble Lord said: This draft order will deregulate archaic legislation that dates back to the 19th century legislation. In fact, today I am introducing the policy that was announced by Michael Howard in 1994; it has taken that long to get this through. After that, the Better Regulation Task Force established by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and the Cabinet Office’s Better Regulation Team have considered this an area long overdue for reform.

I understand this draft order is not controversial and has been warmly welcomed by relevant industry bodies that represent game dealers and retailers, and also by those who shoot game. Indeed, last July at the president’s lunch at the Game Fair, I announced that we were going to do this, and I shall go back later this month and say that I have delivered in one year something that took 17 years to get through.

Full and proper consultation on this draft order took place in 2006, and respondents overwhelmingly supported the three proposals for change to game licensing. The draft order applies to England and Wales only. In broad terms, it will reduce bureaucracy for those shooting or dealing in game and will prevent unnecessary restriction of their otherwise lawful activities. It will also save central government resources, which are currently being put into the administration of a licensing system which is not serving any useful purpose whatever.

The three key changes that the draft order will introduce are as follows: it will remove the requirement to hold a game licence in order to take or kill game; remove the requirement to hold a local authority licence and an excise licence, commonly known as “dealing licences”, in order to deal in game; and remove the restrictions on dealing in game birds and venison during the close season, permitting game to be sold by everyone all year round, providing that the game was lawfully killed.

The draft order will also ensure that necessary protections are retained. For example, it will make it a criminal offence to sell game birds which you know or have reason to believe have been unlawfully killed or taken. The new offence is necessary to maintain the protection afforded to game birds during the close season while allowing the sale of game lawfully taken during the open season to be sold all year round. That was brought about by refrigeration—we are just catching up. Noble Lords should be reassured that protections for wildlife during close seasons are not linked to the requirement for a game licence and these protections will be retained. Provisions relating to poaching game and shooting it outside the relevant open season will also be retained.

These new regulations will make the selling and dealing of game less bureaucratic and will benefit consumers, retailers and game shoots. Game shooting interests will also gain as there will no longer be a licence required to kill or take game. The original intention of the licence to kill or take game was probably to limit hunting to those who were able to pay a significant amount for an annual game licence—and in those days it was a significant annual amount, which is no longer the case. Game shooting is now enjoyed by people from a cross-section of society. Some 480,000 people shoot game, which is an incredible number, creating some 70,000 full-time jobs and bringing to the economy some £1.6 billion. Two million hectares of land are preserved for game, so it is a big business in that sense, but it is also very costly in terms of regulating licences. Some local authorities do not charge in terms of dealers, while others charge a large amount. The game licence itself costs between £2 and £6. If that had been raised in line with inflation from when it was introduced, the cost would be £1,600, which shows how out of date it is.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Crown post offices, which issue the main licence, will not really lose out, as they do not make any profit or get income from the licences. We pay them some £300,000. In fact, abolishing this will probably save the post offices money rather than make them lose out. The rural or sub-postmasters are not involved in this process anyway, so there will be no effect there. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Regulatory Reform (Game) Order 2007. 11th report from the Regulatory Reform Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

We came to this business a little quicker than I thought that we would, and I apologise to the Minister for not being here for his opening words. We support this game order which, as he said, catches up with the commitment that was made. I have one or two questions on it, but in the first place I shall make one or two general points.

Refrigeration has made a difference. It will mean that game will be able to be sold commercially, which we welcome. Hitherto it has been restricted to a certain season. The Minister also said that 480,000 people are employed in game and that it is a very important part of the rural community.

I recognise the role which the various shooting organisations play in the conservation of wildlife. It seems strange that we always talk about killing animals, when those organisations help to conserve and protect other species of wildlife. We put on record all too infrequently our thanks to all those who are involved. If my noble friend Lord Peel were not occupied with his duties as Lord Chamberlain, he would certainly have participated in this debate, because he has reflected over many years the enormous contribution that gamekeepers in particular have made on moorland—the Yorkshire Moors, for example—and in many other places.

I think that all Members of the Committee will welcome the removal of burdens and red tape. Why does the order refer only to England and Wales? It is perhaps because Scotland is devolved, but it will surely raise issues in cross-Border territories. If one is domiciled in England, the English law will apply, but it might be that one shoots in Scotland.

I understand the reason for retaining the provisions for those likely to be involved in poaching; that is, unlawfully taking game when they are not entitled so to do.

It may be that Sundays are already covered in the Act and I have missed it, but does the order cover six days or seven? While certain members of the community would welcome it covering seven days a week, there may be others who consider Sundays to be precious.

In recognising the contribution that those involved in the shooting of game have made to the broader conservation of wildlife, I thank the Minister for introducing the order.

We on these Benches also support the deregulation introduced by the order. It will be sad to go into a shop selling game and not see the provisions of the 1831 Act prominently displayed on the wall, but that is part of the deregulation and follows on from what the Minister said in the House the other day about removing regulations.

Regulation 5 discusses the sale of game birds. Will the burden of proof be on those who transport game birds to say where they obtained the birds, because that might be problematic? Perhaps the onus will be on the police to prove where the birds originated, because, in many cases, there will not be a bill of sale on such birds.

I, too, warmly welcome and support the regulation. I thank the Minister for the speed with which he replied to my Question for Written Answer and for his subsequent short correspondence with me.

I think that I am right in saying, if your Lordships will excuse the most appalling pun, that I started this hare running some 14 and a half years ago, on 10 November 1992, when I berated my noble friend Lord Ferrers, then my late and much missed friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrechnish, and finally Lord Annaly. On 21 July 1994, I finally extracted from Lord Annaly the following statement:

“My right honourable friend has decided that the licensing requirements for those who stake or kill game, contained in the Game Act 1831 and the Game Licences Act 1860, should be abolished”.

There was one very important sentence after that which I will come to in a minute.

I was told, back in the early 1990s, that game licences for those who shoot game—I am concentrating entirely on that—were only just positive in net terms. Some 98 per cent of the cost of a licence was spent on getting the revenue in. I disputed that but, be that as it may, 12p out of £6 did not seem an awfully good return on the money.

There is a point that I think is very important, which my noble friend Lady Byford raised, but in a slightly different context. The final sentence of the quote from Hansard read:

“Such abolition will also apply in Scotland”.—[Official Report, 21/7/94; col. WA 45-46.]

I fully understand why it no longer applies in Scotland, because this is a devolved matter. However, there is a very real problem—at least, I think there is, and I hope that the Minister can put me straight on this. Let me use myself as an example and suppose that I was asked to shoot in Scotland on a Saturday but was unable to leave your Lordships' House, or wherever else I happened to be, until the Friday afternoon. As the law in Scotland stands, I would require a game licence, but I cannot get one in England and by the time I get to Scotland, the post office is closed. At that stage, I am about to shoot illegally in Scotland. I imagine—again, the Minister may put me straight on this—that it is not permitted for my host to buy a game licence for me since this is a personal licence with my name on it. I simply do not understand how one could get out of this jam other than Her Majesty's Government persuading the Scottish Parliament as strongly as possible that it should follow the example of this quite excellent order.

I hope I can answer the noble Lord’s final point by saying that during the course of this year, of which half is left, the Scottish Executive will be reviewing the situation regarding game licences in Scotland. I hope that they will arrive at a sensible conclusion, as I am sure that they will seek to do, as we do not want any cross-border issues like this. I suspect that the position is exactly the same in that it is not cost-effective to issue game licences. The legislation would be the original legislation. The money would be chickenfeed—it is an excessive piece of bureaucracy and an archaic piece of law.

The consultation for the order included the question of Sundays, which proved incredibly controversial. This is not to say that it was good or bad, but it was so controversial that it would not be suitable for a regulatory reform order. The reason the House has approved the regulatory reform order process for changing primary legislation is because, generally speaking, it would not be done on a controversial issue, for which primary legislation would be required. In the consultation, support for two of the three issues to get on with it was over 90 per cent, while support for the other one was in the 70s.

The noble Baroness referred to poaching. That part of the law is not being changed; taking game illegally is still illegal. I hope that Scotland will review matters. On the sale of game birds, the burden of proof will be on the prosecuting authority. I understand from my background notes that the policing of the legislation will be done by the police. The prosecuting authority, whether it is the local authority or other such body, will need to prove whether the birds were taken illegally. That is in response to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

I hope that we can reach a satisfactory outcome regarding the Scottish situation. A similar range of legislation applies there, and a review will be under way during the course of this year. I think I have answered all the questions, but if not, I will try again.

No, it is not possible to shoot on a Sunday, although there are some quirks in relation to this. During my year at the Northern Ireland Office, some of the situations there were explained to me. It is quite surprising what you can and cannot do on a Sunday. Some things can be shot but I do not remember the classifications and I am not going to guess them. As I said, the issue was raised in the consultation and there was feedback, both for and against, but it was too controversial for an order of this nature. Therefore, if there were a procedure on this, it would probably have to be done by primary legislation.

For the record, I noted in the statement made by Defra on 18 May that not only were Sundays not included in the draft order but nor indeed was Christmas Day. Is that still the case?

I would imagine that it is. This order covers three areas, which I delineated at the beginning, where there is a massive consensus for change and where a regulatory reform order would be the way to get it through in view of the lack of parliamentary time. There was a time when newspapers were not published on Christmas Day, but I think that that has long since gone, so things are changing. However, we have not legislated for any change in respect of Christmas Day or Sundays. The only changes that we are legislating for are the three set out in the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.