To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Rooker on 13 June 2007 (WA 259) and the answer on 21 February 2008 (HL Deb, cols 270–72) regarding the abolition of game licences in England, what discussions they have had with the Scottish Executive about abolishing game licences for shooters in Scotland.
My Lords, this is a devolved matter. Game licences were abolished in England and Wales in 2007. They are still required in Scotland but it is for the Scottish Executive to decide whether or not to abolish them. We have had no discussions with the Scottish Executive on this issue.
I thank the Minister for that rather appalling reply. Does he not agree with his noble friend Lord Rooker, whom I am delighted to see in his place, who advised on 3 July 2007 at col. GC 97 that game licences are—or, in the case of England and Wales, were—counterproductive in revenue terms? Would he further agree with his noble friend that,
“we do not want any cross-border issues like this”?—[Official Report, 3/7/07; col. GC 99.]
Could I urge the Minister to do all that he can to persuade his opposite numbers in Edinburgh that this is a complete nonsense?
My Lords, the noble Lord can be appalled by the Answer only if he is opposed to the devolution settlement. This is a matter for Scotland. Of course I always agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker, particularly in his view on the licence, which I recall him on that occasion saying was introduced to ensure that working people could not shoot because of the cost involved. The cost involved at that time was £6—in present day values, it would be £1,500—and the cost now is still £6. The Scottish Executive are consulting on a draft wildlife Bill and intend to include in it the provisions that we have already enacted in England and Wales.
My Lords, one is always sorry about mishaps. As far as England and Wales are concerned, the Government took steps in 2007 to abolish the licence. Obviously, a great deal of shooting goes on in Scotland and licences are still required at the moment, but I have indicated that the Scottish Executive are fully seized of this matter and are consulting on legislation. The legislation would take a year to enact, but it appears that it could easily be only a year or so before there is no requirement for the licence in Scotland.
My Lords, would it not be perfectly reasonable, and no breach of comity between the devolved Parliament and our own, to indicate that a certain number of tourists from this House rather enjoy shooting in Scotland? They are very welcome there but they find it rather irritating that the present law exists. It would be particularly timely to give that indication in view of the impending legislation.
My Lords, game shooting brings some £1.6 billion to the UK economy, but I doubt that that is attributable solely to Members of this House, although their interest is acknowledged. The Scottish Government are all too well aware of the significance of shooting to their economy.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who owns game-shooting land in Scotland. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in reply to my noble friend in February 2008 that it was up to the Scottish Executive what they do and how they decide to spend the money, can the Minister tell us how many other functions of the Post Office generate money for the Scottish Executive or Scottish local authorities and whether the costs are charged to them?
My Lords, I have not been briefed on the finances of the Post Office except to reassure the House that these licences were issued only at main post offices. In fact, there is an arrangement for the licences in Scotland to be issued only at one post office in order to smooth the administration. If the noble Duke is indicating that such smoothness sometimes eludes the issuing of licences, let me say that all the indications from the consultation are that there will not be an obligation on the Post Office in Scotland or anywhere else to issue the licences.
My Lords, while we are considering game licences, would it not also be sensible to reduce some of the overprescriptive legislation on firearms, which takes up so much police time? For example, should a silencer, which is after all not much more than a tin can, count as a weapon on a firearms certificate and require a visit from a policeman to inspect it? Could not the same common sense be applied also to firearms legislation in England?
The noble Lord, uncharacteristically, is guilty of straying a little from the main Question. He is asking me about the law on firearms, an issue that concerns the Home Office, when we are talking about one particular pursuit, which is the use of firearms in an entirely peaceable and legal way—namely, shooting—in Scotland and, I might add, Northern Ireland and the issuing of licences for it. If the noble Lord wants to pursue the issue that he is concerned about, he should address himself to the Home Office.
My Lords, I think that the post office is in Dunkeld. It is not meant to be distant from the operations, but shooting in Scotland covers a very wide terrain. The concept is to smooth the administration as far as possible to ease what is an exercise in technicality. No one thinks that the licence provides any useful purpose whatever, as my noble friend Lord Rooker graphically expressed several years ago. That is why in England and Wales we have already abolished it and, as I have indicated, progress is to be made elsewhere.