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Lord Tordoff: My Lords, would it not be helpful if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office were to submit rather more documents to your Lordships' scrutiny committee so that such matters could be properly discussed before they take place?
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that my Question was directed not so much towards the facilities for debate in this House as to the provision of information that would enable us to have any debate at all on the subject? Will the Government make quite sure that before they conclude agreements, or become a party to conclusions, they will provide details to Parliament so that Parliament may consider the matter?
This Bill is intended to update the legal framework under which wild deer in Scotland are managed. Wild deer, especially our native red and roe deer, are an integral part of our natural and cultural heritage. They contribute significantly to the economic life of much of rural Scotland, especially our most remote areas. Deer are our largest wild land mammal and there are no natural predators. They therefore need effective management to allow them to live in harmony with their habitat and other land uses. The purpose of the new Bill is to ensure that deer managers and in particular the Deer Commission have the powers they need for the future to carry out the necessary management tasks effectively.
This legislative framework has proved invaluable over the past 35 years and it has allowed the Red Deer Commission to resolve successfully many of the long-standing conflicts over deer, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Some noble Lords present today may recall the complaints made in the 1950s by occupiers of farm and croft land in the red deer range and the controversy that resulted from this. Following the implementation of the 1959 Act, these problems became much less widespread. I know that farmers and crofters remain concerned about specific difficulties in some areas, but am encouraged that the commission, particularly through the efforts of the hardworking chairman and expert staff, is taking active steps to resolve problems when they arise.
Time moves on and circumstances change. From a land use point of view there has been a substantial increase in forestry planting and this has both reduced the traditional red deer range and provided additional potential habitats for deer of all species--red, roe and sika deer. We have also seen an increase in deer populations with, for example, an estimated doubling in the approximate numbers of red deer in Scotland from 1963 to 1989. As a result, concerns have grown that the number of deer in some areas is out of balance not only with other land uses, but with the habitat. This, in turn, has led to concerns about the long-term welfare of the deer and the threat of damage to the natural heritage. For the traditional deer estate, there is also the loss of income that results from the increased shooting of mature stags as marauding animals in winter, driven away from their traditional range by increasing hind numbers.
The Red Deer Commission has sought to address these new concerns. It has worked closely with the Forestry Commission to encourage more effective control of deer in woodland and it has provided advice to the Forestry Authority on the design and planning of new woodlands. It has also sought to encourage communication and, where relevant, co-operative action between deer managers through the medium of deer management groups, set up and run by deer managers themselves but with the backing and advice of the
The Red Deer Commission has however been working very much at the limits of the powers available to it through the 1959 Act, as amended, and it is to be congratulated on the resourceful manner in which it has approached the new problems facing deer managers. There is a clear need now for the legislation to be updated and for the commission to be given wider and more flexible powers to tackle the problems as they exist at the end of the 20th century.
There is a particular need for powers for the commission and deer managers to take action in respect of damage to the natural heritage. Although those concerned in the 1950s with natural heritage matters, including the then Nature Conservancy, were closely interested in the relationship between deer and their natural habitats, the whole issue of environmental sustainability did not have the same importance in public and policy terms at that time as it has now. In addition, deer numbers have increased dramatically and, as I stated, red deer numbers have more than doubled in the short period of just 25 years.
The current legislation acts as a constraint on those who wish to protect the natural heritage and it can also act to constrain private managers who wish to protect natural heritage features in which they themselves have made significant investment such as grouse moors. On that and other related matters, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Woolton is able to make his maiden speech today. He has experience and knowledge of these areas.
The Government issued a consultation paper in late 1991 proposing changes to deer legislation to reflect the natural heritage dimension to deer management. It also proposed certain other changes to the general law on the rights of owners and occupiers to shoot deer to meet current and future requirements for balancing other land use concerns with the interests of deer and deer managers. Following the consultation period, my honourable friend the Member for Dumfries, my distinguished predecessor as the Minister for agriculture and environment at the Scottish Office, asked the Red Deer Commission to consider the responses to the consultation paper. The commission put forward its proposals for legislative change in 1994, after discussions with relevant bodies. It is to its credit that it was able to achieve a large measure of consensus between the various groups with an interest in the management of deer. Following subsequent consideration inside government and with key outside bodies the Member for Dumfries announced the government proposals for legislative change in May of this year. The Bill before the House is intended to put these proposals into effect.
At the same time as progressing proposals for change in deer legislation, the Government have also stepped up their support for the Red Deer Commission. Following the appointment of Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington as chairman of the commission in 1993, a role which he is carrying out with considerable skill and determination, the Government have strengthened significantly their budgetary provision for the commission. This increased budget (now standing at over £600,000, and likely to rise as a result of this Bill) has enabled the commission to open a new office in Stirling. It has also enabled the commission to increase the level of support it can provide to deer management groups through the new deer liaison officer posts.
The commission will never be a large bureaucracy, and indeed that is the key to its continuing effectiveness; it does not have grant-giving powers and depends very much for the most part on using advice, guidance and persuasion to encourage others to adopt and continue good deer management practices. But it is important that the organisation has the necessary resources at its disposal to carry out its main tasks effectively, and the Government are committed to seeing this happen.
This Bill tackles several key issues facing the commission and deer managers today. First, the general powers of the commission will be expanded to allow it to promote good deer management practices across the range of issues affecting deer. In particular, these powers will allow it to promote action relating to all species of deer established in Scotland and all aspects of the relationship between deer and their habitats. Red deer will remain an important focus of the commission, given their economic, social and environmental significance, especially in upland Scotland. But these new powers will also reflect and develop further the interest already taken by the commission and deer managers in the management issues affecting other species of deer, especially sika and roe following the extension of some of its powers to cover those species in the Deer (Amendment)(Scotland) Act 1982, which was piloted through the House with some considerable skill and fortitude by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur. It is important that the commission has the full range of powers for the various species of deer which will allow it to promote effective action in ways which, nevertheless, can still take account of the individual characteristics of different species.
In recognition of this change, the Bill would re-name the commission the "Deer Commission for Scotland". On this I should perhaps add that the addition of "Scotland" will not mean any change in the territorial coverage of the commission, which is currently limited to Scotland only. I am sure that noble Lords understand that the specific nature of deer issues affecting us in Scotland differ, sometimes, considerably from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom and that therefore a specific Scottish approach to deer is required.
The Bill will also give the commission, through Clause 3, general powers to promote good practice in deer management by broadening its current advisory role and by allowing it to engage in demonstration projects. These general powers are in many ways the
The Bill contains a provision in Clause 2 to give more flexibility to the commission in deciding on the composition of local panels it can appoint to assist it in its work in local areas. In most circumstances we expect the commission to continue to work with the local voluntary deer management groups to which I have already referred. However, in exceptional circumstances, perhaps where a deer management group does not exist in a particular area, or where there is a need for action by several deer management groups jointly, there might well be a need for these statutory provisions to be put into effect. The new flexibility that the Bill will allow in this respect will ensure that the panel selected is the most appropriate for the issues affecting particular areas.
In parallel with the re-naming of the commission and the extension of its general powers, the Bill also contains in Clause 1 provisions to permit more flexibility in the system of making appointments to the commission. The current provisions set out a strict numerical formula for selecting members from nominees of specific interest groups and bodies. Those interest groups reflect very much the interests in deer as they were perceived in 1959, when the Act was passed. Although the bodies named in the Act remain important in the context of deer, the Act as it stands does not reflect the full range of bodies and individuals with interests currently in deer and their management. Moreover, while many distinguished people have served on the commission since its inception, the current system does not always allow the best available candidates to be appointed on merit.
The Bill therefore includes provisions which will allow a wider range of candidates to be considered. The Bill does, however, stress the need for such candidates to have knowledge and experience of the key issues facing the commission; namely, deer management itself, agriculture including crofting, woodland management and forestry and the natural heritage. It is important that members have this practical experience and knowledge so that they can reach decisions with a clear understanding of their implications for those on the ground. Only if the commission has the confidence of land use managers will it be able to promote effective voluntary action by them. That remains very much the primary thrust of the deer management framework and is the Government's and the commission's preferred option.
In Clause 1 the Deer Commission will also be given the specific general function of furthering the sustainable management of deer, alongside its existing general functions of furthering the conservation and
The extension of the general functions of the Deer Commission to cover this matter will enable the commission to seek to apply the key principles of sustainable management to deer management generally in Scotland. In essence, sustainable management implies that the natural resource should be managed so that it is used wisely and does not compromise the inheritance of the future. As far as deer are concerned, this will mean managing the resource in a way which enables the deer population to live successfully in balance with its habitats. That long-term objective would, if properly implemented, ensure that conflicts with other land uses are kept to a minimum and that, where possible, effective management action is planned well in advance, so that emergency action is either avoided altogether or kept to the absolute minimum.
The Red Deer Commission is already active in this regard in several ways. In conjunction with other public and private bodies with an interest in sustainable management, the commission is involved in the preparation of support models which are designed to assist managers to set appropriate population density levels in relation to particular habitats. The commission is also piloting the preparation of deer management plans which will be designed, as expertise develops, to reflect both local habitat needs and the requirements of deer managers. The Deer Commission will be seeking to demonstrate that the conservation, control and sustainable management of deer and their habitats in a manner which respects other land use considerations is the most effective, efficient and, in the long run, rewarding management system for deer managers.
The Deer Commission and private owners and occupiers will also be given by the Bill certain powers for controlling deer in order to protect the natural heritage. Most importantly, the Deer Commission will be given strengthened powers to promote voluntary control agreements in order to protect the natural habitats as well as agriculture and forestry. It will also be given new powers to protect against threats to public safety. Such voluntary control agreements were promoted widely by the commission in the 1960s, and have more recently been promoted in several parts of the East Grampians. They are implemented by local managers and backed up by the expertise and resources of the commission, and are designed to enable effective long-term action to be taken to solve problems of over-population in particular areas. These strengthened powers will be of considerable benefit to deer managers and others who wish to take co-ordinated action in future.
As now, the exercise of the commission's powers will be subject to its own discretion as to the appropriateness of proposed measures for particular situations. The Bill contains an important measure in Clause 1 which will place a balancing duty on the commission in reaching its decisions to take account of factors including the relationship between deer and their habitats, the needs of agriculture and forestry and the interests of owners and occupiers of land. That balancing duty will ensure that the commission gives full regard to the wider aspects of the problem at hand, as well as the specific deer issues that it has to consider, and that the merits of all relevant issues are taken into account. Such balancing duties are common to a number of public bodies in Scotland and are a very useful mechanism for ensuring that action is taken only after full consideration of all the relevant factors.
As I have already stated, the Bill also proposes that powers be granted to the commission to authorise action, or in certain circumstances to take action, in respect of threats posed by deer to public safety. Again, the best long-term approach to ensuring that deer do not disrupt or threaten communities, or facilities such as airports, will be effective planning of sustainable management which keeps deer numbers in balance with the available habitats. There is a need, however, to have provisions for use in exceptional circumstances to ensure that such very occasional threats as do occur are brought under control as quickly as possible. The inclusion of these provisions in Clauses 4 and 5 will give the commission the powers that it needs to act in this regard.
The Bill contains a number of other measures, similarly designed as regards a more controlled and effective system of deer management throughout Scotland, which also take account of the welfare of the deer. They include amendment to the general law on the rights of land managers to shoot and take deer. In Clause 7 of the Bill, a number of changes are proposed to bring that about. First, all night shooting will henceforth require authorisation by the commission. Night shooting can sometimes be necessary to protect crops and other forms of vegetation from deer damage but it raises
The Bill also proposes enabling the commission to authorise shooting during the close seasons to prevent serious damage to unenclosed woodlands or the natural heritage, or in the interests of public safety. Such control is not allowed under the current Act and constitutes a significant constraint on deer management in a number of areas in Scotland.
We have also included in the Bill the commission's proposal that the moving of deer by vehicles for deer management purposes would be permitted if authorised by the commission. That is currently an offence under the 1959 Act. The deer management purposes that the commission has in mind are essential culling work and exclude any sporting activity. The commission has made it clear that they only see such authorisation being given in very exceptional circumstances, such as when there is a sudden, dramatic and unsustainable population explosion in a particular area and no other methods of control have been, or are likely to be, effective. In response to the public concern about this proposal, we have included in the Bill the stipulation that any such authorisation will be subject to a code of practice on the matter to be prepared by the commission. I should also like to emphasise that the Bill does not change the existing offence of shooting deer from an aircraft.
The Bill also contains, in Clause 6, a proposal to enable the Secretary of State to set by order close seasons for all species of deer. These close seasons, during which the killing of deer is normally prohibited, contribute to deer welfare, form part of the general framework of control of the killing of deer and also respect sporting traditions.
Currently, under the 1959 Act, the Secretary of State can set close seasons for all species except red deer, which are set on the face of the Bill. The Red Deer Commission's proposal will allow more flexibility to change season dates if that is required in future. We have no plans at present however to make any changes to close season dates and would want, as the Bill provides, to seek the commission's views on the matter and those of the wider public before proceeding to make any change.
Lastly, I should note that the Bill contains, in Schedule 1, a new definition of the types of agricultural land on which an occupier can take action to protect crops or stock. Your Lordships may be aware that the current definition in Section 33(3) of the 1959 Act is uncertain, in part because of a judgment some years ago by the sheriff at Dornoch. The new definition we are proposing is intended to allow action to be taken in respect of land on which the occupier has made significant investment to improve its productivity, but to exclude such action on other land. I believe that the new definition will help to clarify the law on this matter and provide effective protection where it is needed.
As your Lordships may be aware, we have prepared a compliance cost assessment to accompany this Bill. This sets out in detail our general assumptions about the impact the Bill will have on private businesses. For the most part the Bill is aimed at promoting voluntary action by deer managers and will not impose any extra costs on them. Indeed, effectively planned deer management will bring about significant benefits to other land uses and deer managers themselves. Only in the very exceptional circumstances of compulsory control schemes to protect the natural heritage and/or public safety would there be extra costs involved. Those costs are not insignificant, but they would, at least in part, be offset by venison sales. In general terms the deer commission will seek to demonstrate to deer managers that effective action to manage deer in a sustainable long-term manner is very much in their own interests.
I recognise that the new Bill, if enacted, would not be as user-friendly as it might be, being an amendment Bill. I am therefore pleased to announce that we propose to introduce, when a legislative opportunity arises, a Bill to consolidate all deer legislation in Scotland in parallel with this Bill through the consolidation procedure. While that may not facilitate the job of your Lordships in considering this Bill in the short term, it will be of some considerable benefit to those affected by the law in the long term, and I hope that your Lordships will give it your support.
I trust that I have given a sufficient explanation of the content of the Bill and of the policies which underlie it. The Bill is substantially based on proposals prepared by the Red Deer Commission and following many years of consultation with affected interests. It represents a carefully considered, balanced approach. It seeks to build on the existing achievement of the commission, deer management groups and deer managers generally, and to give them the powers they need for the future. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that wild deer in Scotland continue to thrive as part of our natural heritage in successful co-existence with other fauna and flora and with other land uses. I am pleased to have the opportunity to promote this Bill, and I commend it to the House.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full explanation of the Bill. I too look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, when he addresses the House. I find it difficult to address this debate because I received my briefings only this morning. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for clearing up some of the problems, although I shall be raising certain points which will require either a reply from the Minister today or can be raised more fully in Committee.
My briefings were extremely helpful. They came from the WWF Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the British Deer Society and the Scottish RSPCA. The WWF made a clear statement in regard to the problems
I shall return to that point, but the RSPCA is concerned about the powers of the commission in relation to the control scheme set out in the Bill. The proposals for new Section 7(1)(a) refer simply to "damage" to woodland. In legislation of this kind that is far too loose a definition. We shall certainly suggest a better definition of "damage". What may be damaging to one landowner may not be to another. I can think of one or two Members of this House who would object to a child running on the land, never mind people hiking across it or walking around the edge. Therefore damage to woodland must be defined rather better than it is at present. It may perhaps be qualified by the word "serious", as is the case in new Section 7(5)(b).
In new Section 7(1)(b) there is a reference in lines 17 and 21 to the possible option of "exterminating" deer in a locality if damage has been caused. That is even more drastic. The Bill gives the commission the power to exterminate deer without deciding whether the damage to the land is extreme or the extent of the damage. That point is supported by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as the RSPCA. Perhaps the Minister can respond in that regard today or again we can debate it more fully at Committee stage.
Another contentious point has been raised many times in conversation. Perhaps the Minister can give us some confirmation on this. He suggested that aircraft would not be allowed. The idea of driving deer by aircraft raises considerable anxieties. Apparently, somewhere in the Bill--though I have not yet found it--a "vehicle" is subsequently defined as including aircraft. I can imagine what would happen if the deerstalking fraternity came out with an aircraft, either fixed wing or helicopters and, with the television watching, the deer were stampeded across the hills of Scotland. It would cause real public anxiety and perhaps a great deal more. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether or not the definition of a "vehicle" for this purpose includes aircraft, either fixed wing or helicopters. That would be of considerable help.
The Minister dealt to some extent with the code of practice on night shooting. We would like further explanation of that. Will the new code of practice relating to night shooting and the use of vehicles have any legal status? I am informed that at present there is no legal status for that. I do not think the Minister dealt with that point, but then he could not deal with every point in his speech.
The British Deer Society is very concerned about the appointment of commissioners by the Secretary of State. It wonders whether there will be a balance of interests and how that balance of interests will be reached.
I am learning as we go along. I have a little background knowledge of the subject but not a great deal. I hope that at the end of the debate, having listened to the distinguished group of people who are to speak, I will have a great deal more knowledge. I look forward to taking an active part at the Committee stage of the Bill. Everyone accepts that something needs to be done, but we are not convinced that what is proposed in the Bill is for the good of the deer only. We wonder how much is also for the good of the sporting interests rather than general environmental interests. I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.
I should like to thank the Minister very much for the clear way in which he introduced the Bill. I broadly welcome its contents. I particularly welcome the fact that for the first time for 40 years, as the Minister said, we are being given the opportunity to look at the working of the 1959 Act and to assess how it measures up to the problem of the overpopulation of deer in some parts of the Highlands. It is not happening everywhere but only in some parts of the Highlands, particularly in Perthshire and the Angus Glen. The Bill includes for the first time all species of deer, not just red deer, which is of great importance, particularly for woodland management where roe deer and sika deer can do an enormous amount of damage and certainly can prevent natural regeneration of the forest.
Before referring to some of the details of the Bill I wish to make two points. First, control of the deer population is needed not only for the protection of agricultural land and the environmental heritage, but also for the welfare of the deer population itself. Lack of nutritious feeding grounds which results from overpopulation causes suffering to the animals and is a sign of bad husbandry of the land. The Red Deer Commission's proposals, on which there was consultation in 1994, use the term "welfare of the deer", which to me has a wider meaning than the term "sustainable management" used in the Bill. I would very much like to see the word "welfare" included in the Bill. The Minister himself used the words "welfare of deer" in his opening address.
To return to the details of the Bill, I welcome the new provision for the appointment of commissioners by the Secretary of State because it removes the very prescriptive nature of the appointments to the old Red Deer Commission. However, it is important that all commissioners, whatever their other expertise, should have knowledge and experience of deer management. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House how the Government see the composition of the new Deer Commission.
The introduction of voluntary schemes side-by-side with control schemes is welcome when they are based on damage having been caused or being likely to be caused to agriculture, forestry or woodland, with the new addition of damage to the natural heritage in both schemes. However, there is a difficulty in defining serious damage to the natural heritage. It is important to guard against the possible use of compulsory powers even when dealing with recalcitrant owners. Compulsory powers should not be used until every avenue for the introduction of a voluntary scheme has been explored. By far the majority of owners of deer forests have a personal interest in carrying out good husbandry of their herds and the compulsory powers should not be needed except on very rare occasions.
The new provisions in Clause 6 relating to the close season, making it subject to amendment by the Secretary of State, are also welcome as long as the provisions for consultation are adhered to before decisions are taken. Clause 7 deals with the authorisation by the commission given to any occupier of agricultural land or woodland to shoot any deer on any such land if they are satisfied that that is necessary and no other method of control can be found. Subsection (3) also gives the occupier the right to use any vehicle to drive deer in order to take or kill them for the purpose of good deer management. "Any vehicle" now includes the use of helicopters. That causes concern. For such action to be allowed very special authorisations should be necessary coupled with the prohibition of shooting from an aircraft. I realise that that is not allowed under the Bill.
Subsection (10) allows night shooting by any person, subject to authorisation by the commission. That will require very close co-operation with the police. All of us are fully aware that night shooting is what takes place when poachers go on our land. The commission cannot be made responsible for policing all these authorisations. That will have to be undertaken by the police. There will have to be close co-operation between the commission and the police in order to prevent a further increase in poaching.
Lastly, I should like to ask whether under both voluntary control agreements and control schemes there is a right to follow deer onto other people's land. Under a control scheme there seems to be some justification for such action but it is likely to cause trouble under voluntary control agreements. I hope that we can have clarification of the conditions under which deer can be followed across a neighbour's land.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I suppose that I have an interest to declare because, although I do not own a deer forest, my husband did own Mar Forest but has given it to a trust for our grandchildren. Naturally I do not want to see their inheritance damaged.
The Government's intention to update and improve the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 is welcome, but in some respects this Bill in its current version provides a shaky foundation on which to build. In the mistaken belief that it would be based on the Government's consultation document, and that heed would have been paid to the responses to that document by such bodies as the British Deer Society and the Association of Deer Management Groups, some of us pressed the Government to find time for it. We thought that the Bill would be fairly uncontroversial, but, having studied it, I am beginning to wonder.
If the desired improvements to the current deer Act are to be achieved successfully without seriously reducing the humane protection the original Act afforded to the deer themselves, a number of amendments will probably be required. If the Bill is to be successful, it must be widely accepted and supported by all interested parties, particularly those legally and morally responsible for proper deer management. In most cases that responsibility lies with the owner of the deer forest, but occasionally with a long-lease holder of the deer shooting rights.
In cases where agreement between the legal deer manager and tenant cannot be reached, the Deer Commission will have to adjudicate, lay down a reasonable course of action and perhaps help to implement it. To do that fairly, the new Deer Commission will have to exhibit a very high level of balanced judgment and common sense but, above all, considerable technical expertise and experience, if all parties are to have confidence that their rights, livelihoods and interests are being safeguarded. Wherever an agricultural or forestry tenant's interests are damaged by deer, the principle in the first instance should be for the legal deer manager to put the matter right in a humane and balanced way to the satisfaction of both parties. Where the public interest--that is to say, the natural heritage--is being damaged, it should initially be for Scottish Natural Heritage to seek an acceptable solution with the legal deer manager.
Turning to the Bill itself, under Clause 1(1) the Deer Commission is given the function of furthering "sustainable management" of deer. I am very grateful to the noble Earl for having provided a definition of what "sustainable management" is supposed to mean in this instance because we have had many Bills with "sustainable" this, that or the other over the past two years and often we have been very pushed to understand what I call this "fashionable catchphrase" means. Sometimes it seems to me to mean whatever the user wants it to mean at any given time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, was sad that the term "welfare" of deer did not appear in the duties of the commission. I too am sorry to see that it has been omitted. I am beginning to wonder why. I have dark thoughts as to why, which I shall mention later on. I presume that "safety of the public" comes under the heading of "control".
The proposals set out in Clause 1(2) and (3) give the Secretary of State carte blanche to appoint whomsoever he pleases. First, he does not have to appoint 12 members because that is only an upper limit. Secondly, he is under no obligation to keep a balance between the various interests named in subsection (3A). While we are on that subject, I would very much like to see the interests of local communities added to the interests which must be considered.
The Secretary of State merely "may" appoint any person who appears to him to have experience of one or more of those matters and sporting interests are not one of them. What is an "appropriate" person? Is it someone who does not have a criminal record or is it just someone whose political views coincide with his own, or what is it? It seems to me that that is a very subjective definition. Surely, no one should be appointed who does not have knowledge of deer management and surely the expertise in the commission should be evenly divided between the four interests named. The Secretary of State may ask such persons or organisations, as he thinks fit, for suggestions of "appropriate" persons, but he is under no obligation to do so. Even if he does, he is under no obligation to act on their advice; he merely has to consider their suggestions and then, as I read the Bill, he can do whatever he pleases.
There are Secretaries of State and Secretaries of State: there are good ones; there are less good ones and one day there might even be a downright awful one. We have to legislate for all kinds, and this kind of permissive phraseology rather worries me. If the Deer Commission is not seen by the various interests to be balanced and impartial, it will have difficulty in obtaining the consent of owners and managers to voluntary control schemes because any proposals it makes will be suspect.
The noble Earl has told us in his introduction that it is the Government's object that, as far as possible, control schemes should be voluntary. I believe that that is something which is really important and that, if it is not got right, the object in promoting voluntary control schemes may fail.
I am very glad, too, to see that it is proposed in Clause 2 that greater reliance should be placed on local panels to solve local problems, but it is essential that they too should be as competent and balanced as the commission should be. Perhaps I may suggest that membership of local deer management groups might serve as a basis for their composition.
I believe that Clause 4 gives many of us cause for concern. The word "marauding" suggests the presence of deer on enclosed land where they should not be, whether agricultural fields, forestry plantations or gardens. Gardens are not mentioned in the Bill, as far as I can see. They are not in the schedule and I wonder
I turn to Clause 5. The proposals regarding voluntary control schemes are warmly welcomed, but like, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, I very much question the wisdom of using the word "exterminate". I know that it is used in the 1959 Act and I believe that it has been used with sika deer in mind, but I believe that it should be removed. In the first place it is virtually impossible to exterminate any creature living in its natural habitat, if at all, without quite unacceptable cruelty. I believe that there will be an outcry from the animal lovers' lobby and from animal conservationists if that provision appears in the Act. In the second place, the phrase "reduce in number" surely covers what is required. The provisions do not state to what percentage the number has to be reduced. That is left completely open.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, that the phrase "serious damage" is too vague. I think that we need a more stringent definition of it. I also very much agree with the noble Baroness that deer are not the only animals responsible for the over-grazing in certain parts of Scotland. Like her, I should like to see something done about the sheep before the deer are reduced too far in number. Although I know that this is very much more difficult, I should also like something to be done about rabbits and hares because they too graze and must share some of the blame.
The proposals in Clause 6 to allow the close season dates to be fixed by order of the Secretary of State are welcome. However, I should like to see the word "shall" instead of "may" in subsection (2). For humane reasons, there must be a minimum fixed close season for all female deer. It is not acceptable to extend the season to the point where lactating hinds are shot, leaving the calves to starve; nor is it popular with the stalkers and ghillies to be obliged to gralloch a pregnant hind. Although I find that less unacceptable than the other, it is not you or me who has to do it.
Again, in this clause, to refer to "any deer", "any land" and "any person" is to give far too wide an opportunity for abuse by the ill-intentioned. Incidentally, why should only the occupiers be given such draconian powers, without any compulsion to inform or consult the legal deer managers? Furthermore, why should they be allowed to sell or dispose of the carcasses?
The Earl of Woolton: My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to speak today as a relative newcomer to the subject of deer management in Scotland, but now finding myself at the very centre of the issue as the owner of an estate in the Angus glens. I am also conscious that I am joining a distinguished list of speakers with a wealth of knowledge on the subject.
I should like immediately broadly to welcome the Bill and to thank my noble friend the Minister for finding time for the Bill in the Government's busy programme. Before I comment on the Bill itself I should like to make a few general observations on deer management, principally relating to red deer in the Highlands. The management of deer means different things to different people. To some, they are a nuisance and interfere with native woodland regeneration and heather moorland management; to others, they yield a significant economic return. Between those two extremes rests a whole host of other interested parties, with their own agendas and strongly held views. There is, I believe, a perception among many of those interested parties that the traditional methods of deer management have largely failed. It was as a result of that perceived failure that these amendments became necessary.
The increasing interest in the issue has now spread wider into the media and other sections of the general public. At the same time, the spotlight has been directed at all forms of traditional country life. Over the past 30 years two simultaneous changes seem to have occurred in the deer populations in certain parts of the Highlands. First, there has been a consistent increase in the deer population. In some areas it has been as high as a three-fold increase. Secondly and clearly related to the first, there has been a movement, particularly of red deer, away from their traditional ranges into new habitats on the outer fringes. I suggest that one of those changes might have been manageable by itself over time, but the fact is that they appear to have happened together and over a relatively short timeframe.
In the south and east Grampians, for instance, the three-fold increase in the red deer population and their movement down to the heather moorland has occurred only over some 30 years. There has been an inevitable conflict created where significant numbers of red deer have moved into areas that were traditionally the preserve of grouse moors and sheep farms. There now exist extensive competitive demands on many parts of the Highlands between agriculture, forestry, sport, habitat management and tourism. All have a vital part to play in the economic and social future of the Highlands, but all cannot be accommodated in all areas at the same time. There now exist a number of pressure points throughout the Highlands where that conflict is at its sharpest and where the need to address the excessive number of deer is immediate.
I have three major concerns for the future. First, the management and interests of the deer will lose out to more powerful economic demands. As a result of being the poor relation, the future of traditional forms of deer control will become more and more difficult. Secondly, the red deer range will continue to shrink in size under the constant pressure from more and more people wanting access to the Highlands. Ultimately, red deer may become confined to selected areas behind the inevitable miles and miles of deer fencing. Thirdly, future deer management must become proactive and not just reactive. Too often in the past pressure points have arisen in certain localities and the existing legislation has offered little or no alternative to extermination--often of whole herds of deer. That will become increasingly unacceptable to the public and lead only to greater criticism of deer managers. Public scrutiny of this issue will only grow in the future.
I hope that I have not sounded too pessimistic because I believe that there now exists--perhaps for the first time--a real consensus among all interested parties. That has been demonstrated in many forums, as promoted by Scottish Natural Heritage and other bodies. The promotion of responsible and sustainable deer management policies must remain the highest priority for the future. I therefore welcome the Government's decision to retain the commission, renamed and with wider powers. That is an important step in recognising that Scotland's deer are unique and require a separate body to look after their interests.
I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister's comments on deer management groups. These have successfully brought together many parties which might otherwise have continued to operate in isolation. The opportunity to consider a local problem without the constraint of ownership boundaries has proved most worthwhile. As many of us know, there still exists an irrational suspicion of what is happening on the other side of the hill. Deer management groups represent the best forum for implementing deer management polices on the ground.
I should like to comment briefly on three clauses of the Bill. First, I welcome as a broad principle the extension of the commission's existing powers to cover serious damage to the natural heritage. The existing legislation has not proved sufficiently flexible to deal
Quite how the commission will respond to requests for assistance where serious damage to the natural heritage has been reported by someone other than the occupier of land may need to be given some further thought. I am sure also that what constitutes "serious damage" may be the subject of a great deal of debate.
Secondly, I welcome the amendments allowing close seasons to be fixed by the Secretary of State. That will provide a much needed degree of flexibility in dealing with local situations. It is an interesting idea that the Secretary of State might be able to set different close seasons for different parts of Scotland.
Thirdly, and finally, amendments to Section 7 of the Act dealing with control schemes are also broadly to be welcomed, while recognising that the voluntary principle must always be given priority where possible. These voluntary schemes, where permitted in limited circumstances under the current legislation, have already proved successful in dealing with a number of pressure points in the East Grampians.
In conclusion, all of us involved in deer management have a unique responsibility for the future wellbeing of Scotland's deer. We must not let this opportunity be lost to deliver a long-term and sustainable policy into the next century.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am glad to congratulate my noble friend Lord Woolton on his maiden speech, on behalf of the whole House as well as on my own behalf. It was a fluent and informed contribution to our debate and an excellent example of what a maiden speech should be. He follows distinguished forebears: his grandfather of course was the Cabinet Minster in World War II with heavy responsibilities for food supplies for the civilian population. It is felicitous for me to be speaking now because I had the pleasure of knowing his father and mother. His mother was a constituent of mine in northern Scotland when I was in another place. We look forward to hearing many more speeches from my noble friend, and we wish him well.
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