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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I support the principles in the Bill, and I am glad that a place was found for it in the current Session of Parliament. Legislation must keep pace with changing situations and provide suitable measures to meet them.

There is now a change of name for the commission--it is not just the Red Deer Commission--because other deer are to be included in the legislation. Red and sika have interbred and there are now to be added fallow and roe. I welcome the latter because roe have become a more important element in Scotland than in the past.

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Stalking them is now more sought after as a sport, especially by foreigners. That is helpful to Scottish rural areas.

I declare an interest. I and my son own a modest estate in northern Scotland where there are many roe. It is arable land near the Moray Firth--not heather and granite--so it is not a habitat for red deer. I welcome the Bill because I have been concerned with previous legislation. I remember the passage of the principal Act of 1959 which was virtually the first in Parliament to deal with the control of red deer to protect farm land from damage from marauding deer. It also established the commission.

In the late 1960s, when I was in opposition in another place, I piloted through two Private Member's Bills on the subject, one being the Sale of Venison Act 1968. Noble Lords may also recall that in 1982 I took over the later stages of the Private Member's Bill (the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill) introduced by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, when he was appointed to a position in the Government while the Bill was passing through Parliament.

The problems in Scotland have been mainly with red deer. They have a valuable place in the ecology of the Highlands, inhabiting wild areas of hill and moor where crops and forestry trees cannot be grown. Unfortunately they do not always remain in the areas which are most suitable for them. When they multiply to numbers which cannot be sustained within their normal habitats, they starve, or invade farmland and other arable territory, causing damage.

The Bill adds to the previous legislation considerations of "damage to the natural heritage", and threats to public safety. There is general agreement that more powers are needed to deal with the situation. I understand that the Bill follows recommendations from the Red Deer Commission.

Arrangements for culling to reduce population growth have in the past meant the killing of hinds (the females), and that seems likely to continue and to be increased. I refer now to an unusual proposal which has been put forward by an organisation called Animal Concern. It is that a contraceptive be introduced in some way so that large numbers will not have to be killed by shooting. How it could be done, I do not know, and how to administer the pill to deer in the hills and to reach the approximate numbers required--not too many and not too few. It is an unusual suggestion and probably impracticable.

At present where overpopulation occurs, starving deer will come to eat forage put out for them by man in winter conditions. Perhaps an experiment could be undertaken by including a contraceptive substance in that forage. It could then only affect a small proportion. I shall be glad if the Government would comment at some stage--not necessarily today but perhaps at later stages of the Bill--but I shall not be surprised if the proposal is found to be too difficult to carry out.

It is important--my noble friend Lord Woolton also stated this--to consider humane ways of reducing the numbers. The British public are concerned--I am talking about the British public in cities and towns as

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well as those in the countryside--about the lives of animals, and the reasons for various actions should be explained where public interest and anxiety are evident. To some members of the public, culling seems to be an authorised mass slaughter of females.

The Bill would provide also wider conditions for shooting deer, including at night and out of season in certain circumstances and within permitted arrangements. I agree that there should be scope for doing that when deer are in the wrong place, and causing damage, provided that control and supervision are guaranteed.

The Bill provides also for driving and herding deer to improve the management of them, presumably steering them to more suitable areas at the time. I understand that is not to be permitted as part of a day's stalking or in connection with sporting activities of any kind. Another issue that has already been raised today, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, is whether "driving" includes the use of helicopters and light aircraft. I shall be interested to hear the Government's reply on that.

There is a new condition about threats to public safety. My noble friend in his introduction spoke of deer straying on to an airfield. I should be grateful for more examples of that, if not today perhaps at later stages. In my experience, the most likely and serious danger is of hitting a large red deer stag crossing a road, in particular at night. I have had to take quick avoiding action in darkness on Highland roads. A collision with an animal of that size could be serious. Is that what the Government have in mind? It is difficult to prevent unless wholesale herding is carried out to more remote areas. Am I right in assuming that, under the terms of the Bill, it would not be possible to do much to make roads safer?

I welcome my noble friend's announcement about consolidation and the fact that before long there will be a consolidation Act which will be far easier for everyone to understand. Having been involved in the various amending Acts since 1959, I am glad to hear that. In general, I support the principles of the Bill.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I too wish to give a general welcome to the Bill and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay on his lucid and careful explanation of it. I believe that this is the first time for many years that Scottish deer legislation has been the subject of a government Bill, which to a large extent raises its profile. The previous Bills appear to have been Private Member's Bills--albeit hand-out Bills--although my noble friend Lord Forbes believes that I am wrong about that. No doubt he will be able to explain the matter further.

When I read the Bill I was reminded of many of the complex and competing issues, some of which could be described fairly as pitfalls, involved in legislating on deer. Some of those manifested themselves in the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1982, on which I cut my legislative teeth in your Lordships' House. Towards the end of its passage, and under the circumstances

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prevailing, I was able to hand it on to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I remember saying to myself, and probably to others, that after that experience I would never again get involved with animals, let alone deer, in this House. But here we are again. I have broken my resolution more than once, probably in support of Bills brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

Those who were involved in the passage of the 1982 Bill--and, sadly, many of them are no longer with us--also urged me and my noble friend Lord Mansfield, who was then on the Front Bench, to do all that we could to get the Bill right. The chances of further legislation on deer in Scotland emerging before a further 20 years or so, they said, was pretty unlikely. As regards this subject, 13 years seems like yesterday and it is to the credit of the Scottish Office and my noble friend and the Red Deer Commission that they conducted a consultation exercise in 1991-92 to see how the 1959 Act could be amended to reflect the contemporary scene and the problems which my noble friend Lord Lindsay has identified. I thank the Scottish Office and the Red Deer Commission for keeping me informed of how their considerations were developing.

I have little doubt that some of the broader points of principle relating to the management of deer, about which we heard in 1982 with so many knowledgeable Members of your Lordships' House playing a part in our considerations, will re-emerge this time. It is, of course, the case that the overall deer population, especially of red deer and sika, has markedly increased, as many of your Lordships have said. Mild winters, inadequate culling in some areas and other factors are reasons for that. In many places the population should be reduced. This Bill seeks to address the population issue. It is right that it should, as my noble friend Lord Woolton made clear in his admirably knowledgeable maiden speech. My concern, however, lies in the fact that the Bill now before us introduces a very considerable tilt in the balance between conservation and control, away from the former and towards the latter. If this Bill is to command confidence among all those different competing interests which are involved, as surely it must if it is to be a success--I mean legitimate interests but not easily compatible or reconcilable ones--some tilting of the balance back towards the former is necessary. I suspect that my noble friend on the Front Bench will have detected that theme already.

It would be a mistake to go into too much detail now. We shall have plenty of time to do so. Indeed, if the 1982 Bill was anything to go by we shall certainly need that time to explore the detail. However, in order to illustrate some of my concerns now it is necessary to look at the Bill in a little detail. Clause 1 deals with the functions of the Deer Commission for Scotland. I support the change of name, although I seem to be eating the words that I uttered on Second Reading of the 1982 Bill. One of my concerns about Clause 1 lies with the major addition to a substantially reworded Section 1 of the 1959 Act in referring to the "sustainable management" of deer. That has been touched on by others, most notably by the noble

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Lady, Lady Saltoun. I am not clear about what it means. Does it mean that the management is sustainable--that the management of deer on any land is sustainable--or does it refer to the sustainable management of a habitat? Perhaps my noble friend will explain the matter further because it is unclear to me.

That, in a sense, goes to the heart of the Bill because the great change since 1982--let alone since 1989--has been the passage of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act and the powers it contains and how the Deer (Scotland) Act must inevitably fit in with it. During the passage of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act, many of us in this House forecast something of a conflict if its interests were to ride roughshod, or look as though they were likely to do so, over the interests of deer management, deer welfare and the interests of landowners. When I see that,

    "the Commission, in exercising their functions, [shall] take such account ... of ... the size and density of the deer population and its impact on the natural heritage",
I am hardly surprised. I have no real difficulty with the concept of that, being balanced as it is with the needs of agriculture and forestry and the interests of the owners and occupiers of land, with all that that means for sporting interests and the welfare of those employed in that regard and the economy that flows from it. Where I part company with the Bill as it is now drafted is in the new formation of the commission to undertake those functions and to take account of the features that the Bill names. The Bill states that:

    "the Secretary of State may appoint [to the commission] any person who appears to him--

    (a) to have knowledge or experience of one or more of the following matters--

    (i) deer management;

    (ii) agriculture (including crofting);

    (iii) forestry and woodland management; and

    (iv) the natural heritage".
But why, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, asked, does the list exclude anything about owners or occupiers or sporting interests in deer?

I suggest that it would be perfectly possible to fit all four categories with people who have knowledge or experience--although I must say that I think that it would be a considerable improvement to have both qualities--without them having any real understanding of the practicalities of ownership, the sporting interests that goes with that, and other features best known to those who deal with and regularly live and operate on the land concerned.

Therefore, it seems to me that we go straight into a conflict between Section (1A) and (3A). I hope that my noble friend will address carefully what appears to be a manifest anomaly when he winds up the debate. If the Bill cannot be made clearer in that respect, there is a real risk that confidence in it, the commission and its membership could be severely impaired because it is a major departure from the representational elements contained in the 1959 Act.

The same principle should apply to deer panels referred to in Clause 2. I am all in favour of increasing the size of deer panels. Deer management groups and

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deer panels have, in their separate ways, both been a great success over the years. But there seems little logic in so loosely drafting the requirements for membership and I believe that that should broadly follow the earlier clause.

I turn now to the powers of the commission which are dealt with in Clause 3, which amends Section 4 of the substantive Act. I have very real worries about the power that that would confer on the commission to conduct,

    "any experiment, trial or demonstration, relating to the conservation, control or sustainable management of deer, or to any other aspect of the Commission's functions".
What sort of experiments is the commission considering and for what purpose? Why is it necessary to widen to such an extent the existing Clause 4 powers? I hope that my noble friend will be able to give reassurance.

If ever there was a topic which generated heat, light and not a little steam during the 1982 Bill, it was the subject of marauding deer. I shall always remember the amusing anecdotes of the late Lord Massereene and Ferrard on that subject. But this Bill seems to introduce a real anomaly. If deer maraud, they are going somewhere where they should not be or where people do not want them to be. The dictionary definition is that to "maraud" is to make a plundering raid; to go about pilfering. Those are well-known qualities of deer in search of food and they do that in ways which often disadvantage those who own that food. That is exactly what deer do. But how on earth can they maraud on any land, even if qualified by the wording of paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii)?

Again, that seems to be inequitably tilting the balance towards protecting the natural heritage in a way which, frankly, drives a coach and horses through the carefully qualified conditions in Section 6 of the 1959 Act.

I hope that my noble friend can see that the effect of that could be understood to be, in effect, a back-door route to some type of unapproved control scheme. It would be a control scheme in all but name and without the safeguards that control schemes enjoy. Unless the Bill is reworded to meet those concerns, to that extent I find it very unpalatable.

There are other issues surrounding public safety, the driving of deer by aircraft, close seasons and perhaps the need for refining the drafting of the Bill at which we shall look in greater detail in Committee. But here we are dealing with the principles and it is those principles which need to be addressed. The new proposals seem to be a significant shift which could impact seriously on the welfare of deer, the interests of landowners and economic viability.

Of course the natural heritage must be protected. My noble friend Lord Woolton made that point admirably and I do not dissent from that one bit. None of us disputes that. But the powers which this Bill seems to introduce could discriminate overwhelmingly in favour of that one aspect. The Bill, as welcome as it is, can be improved. I wish it well and I look forward to its later stages.

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4.35 p.m.

Lord Forbes: My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Woolton on his splendid maiden speech made with great eloquence and with considerable knowledge of deer in Scotland.

In 1958, some 37 years ago, I had the privilege to introduce and steer through your Lordships' House the Deer (Scotland) Bill which became an Act in 1959. It was not a Private Member's Bill but a government Bill.

Although the legislation has been twice amended, it is now necessary to bring it completely up-to-date. Because of that, I welcome this Bill. Indeed, there have been many changes over the years. One change which has certainly intrigued me is that the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 cost 1s.3d., whereas the Bill introduced today by the Minister costs £3.80, which is quite a difference.

In 1958, the main problem was poaching and cruelty to the deer. There were gangs of poachers going about, mainly in the north-west of the Highlands, who were acting like commandos. They had all sorts of weapons, including automatic weapons. They had rubber boats so that they could approach the deer from the sea. They operated largely at night, and human lives were at risk because stalkers went out to try to get to grips with the poachers and at times they were fired on.

Another aspect was cruelty. For every stag or hind that was shot, there were almost certainly two or three others which were wounded, and possibly worse still was when a hind with a small calf was shot or killed and the calf was just left to die because the calf was too small to fend for itself. It was the poaching and the cruelty which sparked off the need for the 1959 Bill.

It was then decided that it should be a comprehensive Bill dealing with deer control and conservation. Today, in spite of the present legislation, there has been a marked increase in the number of deer. If my memory serves me correctly, in 1959 it was reckoned that there were 150,000 red deer in Scotland. Today that figure has more than doubled. One of the reasons for the increase has been the remarkably mild winters that we have had during the past decade.

Too high a density of deer can cause considerable damage. Heather is eaten out, grass comes in; and in some cases, even bracken comes in. Then, if there is not enough food for the deer, they go marauding on arable land. Furthermore, too many deer lead to soil erosion. Too many feet going down one track lead to erosion.

I mentioned heather. Heather, as well as forming part of the feed for deer, is also essential for grouse. I believe it is unfortunate that grouse are declining while deer are on the increase as grouse are more important to the Scottish economy than deer. It is grouse that attract more people, and their money, to the moors from various parts of the world. There are many reasons for the decline of grouse. It is a complex subject. Over-grazing by deer is just one of the many factors.

Too many deer also prevent natural regeneration of trees, including the magnificent Caledonian pine trees which once made the landscape of Scotland so beautiful. The big problem is how to reduce deer numbers and keep them at a sustainable level. Culling is not easy.

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The season is short and often the hind culling season is cut short by atrocious weather. Skilled stalkers are needed to do it. The price of venison also comes into it. If the price of venison is high, it encourages owners and managers of deer forests to cull. If the price is low, it is a disincentive for extra culling. Only a few deer are culled by nature. A hard winter may account for some of the old and the weak. In Africa it is the predators which reduce the gazelles and other antelopes, but not in Scotland--as my noble friend the Minister pointed out--where there are no predators. Culling must be done by man.

It is much easier to determine how many deer should be culled than to say how it should be done--that is the real problem. In that respect I believe that the Bill will be helpful. For instance, Clause 3 deals with research and experiments. I believe that research will be necessary to determine the best way to reduce numbers. Clause 5 deals with consultation on close seasons. Altering close seasons can certainly be looked at, especially as regards the culling of hinds.

I wish to say a few words about Clause 7 which deals, among other matters, with restrictions on shooting at night. In my view shooting at night simply must be kept to a minimum. Some people may not know whether the shooting is being carried out by authorised people or by poachers. Furthermore, it is dangerous. People go onto the moors when it is dark, especially when there is good moonlight. I might recommend to your Lordships that going out onto a moor in the moonlight can be revealing if one is interested in wildlife. Apart from deer, one sees all kinds of other animals such as foxes and badgers looking for worms and berries off the rowan trees. One may see otters near little streams, and even the wild cat.

It is of paramount importance that there is no cruelty during culling. I believe there is a lesson to be learnt here from some of the seal culling that has taken place. Some of the seal culling was carried out by people with little experience of the job. They used various weapons to shoot the seals and they even clubbed pups to death. Quite rightly in my view this aroused public indignation. As a result of that people are against any culling of seals for any reason, even to protect our valuable salmon stocks. It is essential that we do not get into the same situation as regards deer culling. Deer culling must at all times be humane, otherwise there will be public outcry and it will be stopped for all times. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister for introducing this Bill, and I wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest as the largely absentee owner of a west Highland sporting estate. Like most other such owners I am absentee because the estate is not exactly self-financing and to support it I have to spend most of my time away from home. Unlike many such places, however, it is indeed my home. I spent all of my school holidays on the place and I have run it without a factor for the past 25 years. Therefore I think I can claim to

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have had what may be unusually close contact with the land in question, and with its problems, for more than 40 years.

It is this experience which gives me the temerity to try to set this Bill against a slightly wider context than has been attempted by my noble friend on the Front Bench this afternoon. To do this I would remind your Lordships briefly of some of the salient points in the broad history of the Scottish Highlands as they affect this Bill.

Your Lordships will recall that in Roman times the Highlands were so densely afforested--and, it must be admitted, so savagely populated--that the mighty Roman Empire had to build a wall to mark its boundary. Your Lordships will know too, that that forest was then diminished by man for hundreds of years, so that the trees had mostly gone by the time of the infamous Highland Clearances some 200 years ago. That is when people with their subsistence farming and their soil enriching cattle left most of the land, to be replaced by huge numbers of sheep which were soon joined by large herds of deer. Your Lordships will appreciate too that acid rain started to fall soon after the clearances, the effects of which we are at last trying to monitor and control.

So it was that in 1954 Sir Frank Fraser Darling so wisely wrote:

    "The bald unpalatable fact is emphasised that the Highlands and Islands are largely a devastated terrain; any policy which ignores this fact cannot hope to achieve rehabilitation".
Alas, we have indeed ignored that unpalatable fact and so the degradation of the soil and the terrain have continued for another 40 years. The question before us this evening is whether this Bill as drafted will do anything to reverse that process with any degree of harmony. I fear that it will not.

The brief history that I have mentioned has led to a number of understandable tensions, some of which lie in the background to this Bill, and appear to have at least partly inspired it. Broadly speaking, these controversies stem from what a landowner or occupier may want to do on his land, and what others think should happen on it. Let me refer to three areas where there has been, or is, disagreement of this kind: sites of special scientific interest, public access, and grazing pressure. Your Lordships will recall that the Bill which set up Scottish Natural Heritage in 1991 ran into difficulty in your Lordships' House principally over a landowner's ability to avoid the imposition by SNH of an SSSI with which he did not agree on scientific grounds. Your Lordships insisted on a new scientific committee under the auspices of SNH to which landholders could appeal if they did not agree with a particular designation. At the time this was highly unpopular with many of our conservation bodies, which feared that there would be so many appeals to the new committee that SNH would not be able to function. The wicked landlords in your Lordships' House were accused of deliberately frustrating the work of SNH.

Well, my Lords, the good news is that the very existence of the new committee appears to have removed any excess of zeal by SNH to designate

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unnecessary SSSIs. There have only been two appeals to it, both of which were adjudicated in favour of SNH. The better news is that a new era of harmony has broken out in the Highlands between SNH and landholders. Much of the credit for this must go to SNH's chairman, Sir Magnus Magnusson, and his team, and to SNH's local boards, which are starting to collaborate fruitfully with landowners all over Scotland.

Nowhere perhaps is this new harmony and collaboration more beneficial than in resolving the very delicate problem of public access. The Association of Deer Management Groups, speaking for virtually the whole landmass of the Highlands, is close to agreeing a new concordat, now in its eighth draft, with all the access and amenity interests. This agreement should meet the aspirations of all those who rightly enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of our hills, while at the same time it should safeguard the employment of those who earn their living from our wild deer. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the vital economic importance of the latter, especially in our remotest areas.

And so I come to grazing pressure, which is really what this Bill is about. The Bill, as drafted, is not about the welfare and harmonious existence of our largest wild mammals. It is a blueprint for their destruction. Like the original SNH Bill, it is a sop to the wilder, more aggressive elements of our conservation movement, and it could do enormous damage to the Highlands if enacted in anything like its present form.

To justify that allegation I must ask your Lordships to appreciate that those wilder elements wish to see the numbers of deer in the Highlands reduced to a level where the ancient Caledonian Forest might regenerate, without deer fencing (which it would not, but that is another matter). When I finish I shall press my noble friend to tell us exactly where the Government stand on this issue.

Those who wish this to happen would be quite happy to see a 95 per cent. cull and the obliteration of deer forests as we know them, which is, of course, the object of their exercise. I fear they are reliving and attempting to revenge the Highland Clearances, to nobody's apparent benefit and certainly to the detriment of our deer and natural heritage. I should add that it was this same lobby which wanted to abolish the Red Deer Commission in 1991 and give the powers envisaged in this Bill to the fledgling SNH.

Of course, I do not suppose that many of us would object to the Red Deer Commission, as presently composed, having these powers, because we trust it, as we trust SNH. Through our Deer Management Groups we are already collaborating to reduce deer numbers where most people agree that they are excessive. But Scotland appears to be an uncertain place politically at the moment, and we must, however reluctantly, consider what a Secretary of State sympathetic to the wilder elements could do with this Bill. Armed with Clause 1 he could appoint a commission consisting entirely of such people, and under Clause 4 that commission could send out the helicopters to drive deer into large corrals for their subsequent massacre. That is, in fact, the only

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efficient way to get rid of deer on a large scale permanently. He could do that without a public inquiry and without compensation.

Before leaving grazing pressure, I must point out that it is not entirely honest to attempt to deal with overgrazing in the Highlands without being prepared to talk about sheep and to see what might be done to reduce their numbers. It is true that a deer is reckoned to eat two-and-a-half times what is eaten by a sheep, but there are about 200,000 deer in the Highlands and at least 2 million sheep, which means that the sheep are eating four times as much as the deer. Furthermore, the unhealthy numbers of sheep are positively encouraged by the subsidies which are paid on the ewes. This means that people keep more ewes than their ground can sustain.

I therefore have a suggestion for the Government, if they really want to reduce grazing pressure in the Highlands sensibly. Subsidies should be taken away from the ewes, and should be granted instead on the lambs. The present level of any farm subsidy should be paid only on the second lamb, or twin. This would have the effect of dramatically reducing today's unhealthy stocking rates, which make good lambing percentages impossible. At the same, time this system would safeguard the incomes of hill farmers. I hope that the Government will give the idea some thought.

To return to the Bill itself, I welcome the intention to allow the Secretary of State to vary the close seasons when deer may not be shot. If it were legally possible to shoot hinds earlier in the year--say in September--I suspect that much of the problem of any overgrazing by deer would soon go away naturally. Estates could earn a useful income by letting their hind shooting in the longer, warmer days, and a much larger cull could be complete by the new year, with higher income from the better quality meat. However, it cannot be right that the Secretary of State should be free not to set any close seasons at all, as envisaged in Clause 6, thus relegating deer to the category of vermin. I join with other noble Lords in saying that that clause must be amended.

I am disappointed to see that the Bill does not contain a statutory requirement for carcass tagging. I understand that a Red Deer Commission working party has concluded that this would be both desirable and feasible. It should be centrally administered, perhaps by the commission, and could be financed by the industry, at a cost of about 30p per carcass. It seems to me essential to any deer management policy to know not only how many deer we have, but also how many we are shooting. Only then can we gauge the effect of a shooting policy on any piece of land. Good progress is being made towards accurate counting as part of the developing collaboration between the Red Deer Commission and deer management groups, which I have mentioned, but we are still a bit in the dark about how many deer are being shot and exactly by whom. So I hope that the Government will be prepared to discuss this further.

Perhaps I may end by pressing my noble friend on the Front Bench to make clear exactly what is meant by Clause 1 of the Bill. What exactly does the

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"sustainable management" of deer mean? And when we come to the duties of the commission, I note that these are:

    "to take such account as may be appropriate in the circumstances".
I am advised that this is a very weak form of duty. I do not know what paragraph (a) of subsection (1A) means. That reads:

    "the size and density of the deer population and its impact on the natural heritage".
Who decides what that impact is? Who decides what the condition of the natural heritage should be? Does this include reducing deer to a level where the ancient forest can regenerate without fencing? It is most important for us to know this fact. I look forward to my noble friend's answer in the hope that I am being extremely over-pessimistic about the whole matter.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Burton: My Lords, first, I should like to add my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Woolton. I hope that we shall hear him many times in the future.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, say that he had difficulty getting hold of a copy of the Bill. I thought that perhaps I was alone in that, but I am delighted to hear that so eminent a person on the Front Bench opposite should have had the same problem. That caused me some difficulty because I only received a copy of the Bill at 11 o'clock this morning.

There has obviously been anxiety that the deer herd has been increasing markedly over a number of years. However, apart from the East Grampians and the Angus glens, much of that increase has come from the colonisation of new areas. Perhaps the legislation has been influenced by the situation in the Grampians and the Angus glens, whereas in other areas the situation has been very different.

It was estimated that some 50,000 of the increase in deer, from 200,000 to 300,000, was in new woodlands, many of which were at the thicket stage. After all, our deer are basically woodland animals and their adaptation to the open hill was only brought about by the scarcity of woodland in the Highlands, as my noble friend Lord Pearson mentioned. Now our red deer have no peace on most of our open hills. They are harried day after day by hill walkers. It is not surprising, therefore, that they now find shelter in our new woods.

The Minister referred to the reduction in the deer range by the extension of the woodlands. However, can we not take a leaf out of the book of our continental neighbours whose woods are used as a habitat for deer which are considered a major asset there? We could learn much from the Continent on how to manage our woodland deer.

Many of our traditional deer forests have been almost completely depleted of deer. There is a great lack of knowledge in Scotland on the management of our woodland deer. There will be no proper control as long as the deer are harried around day and night. The

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spotlight makes them more frightened than anything. Perhaps I may give a practical example. Last winter, with rather limited time, I managed to get about 55 animals--hinds and calves--on about 2,000 acres. That was done by nipping them out here and there during the hours of daylight. That 55 was about 25 per cent. from a total population of between 180 and 200; and, furthermore, there was some degree of selection. Night shooting is indiscriminate. I believe that the less night shooting there is, the better.

Having stated those generalisations, and I hope in some way dispelling the idea that the whole of the Highlands is grossly overpopulated with deer, I must say that, regrettably, I find little that I like in the Bill. However, the provision in Clause 1(1)(a) is obviously sensible. It merely changes the name of the commission. After that there appears to be little, if anything, for the welfare of deer. The proposals will undoubtedly bring about many abuses of the legislation, and increase the mismanagement of deer. The proposals seem to make unnecessary changes which are not warranted. If the machine is not broken, why mend it?

However, the manner in which the legislation is operated will depend greatly on the commission. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, refer to this point; it is possibly the biggest worry in the proposals before us today. I refer to the composition of the commission. The current commission has on the whole worked well for 36 years. It has worked well because there was a balance among the members of the commission between those who saw the deer as an asset to be managed--our largest wild mammal and, among other things, a tourist attraction--and those who believed that the only good deer was a dead one. I know that from time to time certain foresters, and one or two others on the commission, were not keen to see any deer. However, that is by the way. There was a balance; that was the important thing.

The new proposals could completely disrupt that balance. It is a dangerous situation. There is nothing in the Act to state that the Secretary of State cannot appoint a commission nominated completely by Scottish Natural Heritage. I find that a terrifying thought.

I turn now to the functions of that body. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and other noble Lords referred to sustainable management. Surely the existing Bill already provides for that in referring to conservation and control. Surely proper conservation and proper control is sustainable management. I suggest that if the word "sustainable" is wanted it should be inserted in new Section 1A, which refers to the duties of the commission. Paragraph d could refer to the management of a healthy, sustainable population of deer.

Several noble Lords asked what criteria are to be taken as regards the impact on the natural heritage. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us. I do not believe that the wording is satisfactory. Who will judge that impact? Will the deer commission consider the advice of the Scottish Natural Heritage to be paramount in judging how the natural heritage should be protected?

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What is "serious" damage? The deer legislation states that any animal in the middle of a stubble field could do potentially serious damage. The interpretation of "serious" in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is very different. It is difficult to obtain a licence to kill anything, however serious the damage it creates. But one deer is all that is necessary in the deer legislation. To have the same word interpreted so widely in two pieces of legislation is not satisfactory. The legislation refers to serious damage. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, say that there was damage in only one or two places. At least the reference should be to serious damage if not to something more prominent. Perhaps there should be a definition of "serious" in the Bill.

No reference is made in the Bill that steps to protect one's crops and woods are necessary before one can start shooting deer at night or out of season. Proper steps should be taken to try to protect crops or woods. The commission could decide whether it is reasonable to have a proper fence. I know of places where crops are planted to lure the deer into fenced fields. The gates are deliberately left open, then shut at night, and the deer on the crops are slaughtered. That is not good management and not what the Bill is intended to provide for.

I do not believe that where there is improper fencing the forestry interests should be permitted to go battering away at the deer night after night with spotlights. Those people are not keen to put up fencing; it is expensive. If they can kill the deer simply by driving around with a spotlight, and obtain some value for the venison, that is what they will do. That is what they are doing and it should not be permitted.

The close season has been referred to. I know that there are large herds of stags on the hill ground during the winter in Angus and South Perthshire. It may be difficult for the commission to give permission at present for anything to be done about those large herds of deer because it would be out of season. However, I do not see that that is good reason for changing the season. There is no reason why the commission should not be given powers in such an instance. The situation does not occur in many places. The commission could easily be given powers to permit what it considers to be reasonable culling.

I do not like the idea of a Secretary of State being given power to change the close season, which has stood for a long time. I do not see what is wrong with it. It will be quite wrong to permit the shooting of hinds earlier than, say, the middle of October. They are still heavy with milk and unless one shoots the calf first one cannot guarantee that one will kill the calf as well as the hind. The calf may well run away with the main herd and be extremely difficult to pick out. Alternatively, if it is in woodland, it can quickly disappear. That makes the culling of hinds quite difficult; in the woods in particular. The close season could be extended, possibly in February. However, the Deer Commission likes that time for counting. Also the hill hinds are by then in bad condition. If it is necessary to have a longer season for

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killing the hinds in any specific area, there is no reason why we should not give the commission the power to arrange that, but not to change the seasons generally.

I turn to safety on public roads, which has already been mentioned, and what is involved in protecting the public. In places like Drumochter enormous numbers of deer will frequently be found in hard weather down near the road. However, they get wise to the roads. The main problem of large animals being hit at night was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. Often they come down to turnip fields, which are not that big. I have found that we can keep them out with electric fencing.

There is one further point. I do not know whether the Minister noted that owners are not allowed to shoot deer at night unless they happen also to be occupiers. It would often be more appropriate for the owner to kill deer on a tenanted farm than for the tenant. I have had trouble with that. I do not know what has been killed. The countryside has been littered with wounded animals and orphaned calves. I do not believe that that is to be encouraged. I am not keen on night shooting anyway, but I believe that owners should be allowed to do it rather than occupiers, or both.

We shall no doubt have an interesting Committee stage, when we shall return to other points. I hope that I have given enough food for thought today, but I welcome my noble friend's offer of consolidation of deer legislation. That is most important. I have been asking for the Scottish salmon legislation also to be consolidated and perhaps he will lend his weight to that as well.

5.11 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, this has been an interesting, constructive and stimulating debate. Possibly one of the highlights was the maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Woolton who, as we anticipated, spoke with great experience and knowledge on the subject of deer management. He has had many years of having to deal with the problems which deer pose and the House must be grateful that he shared his knowledge with us tonight. I also admire him because some of us rushed into our maiden speeches, producing what could only have tasted like young wine. However, my noble friend ensured a vintage performance by allowing a maturing process before delivering the product. His was a useful contribution.

My noble friend Lord Woolton stressed two essential truisms on the subject which will have helped us. His first point was that the red deer range in Scotland is both reducing and moving. It is the pressure of a reducing and moving red deer range that is causing some of the friction and stresses with which we hope the new Bill will deal.

The other excellent point which my noble friend made is that deer management must at all times be proactive rather than reactive. I hope to return to that subject when we discuss sustainable deer management, which confused some noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Woolton pointed out that he was conscious of the daunting list of speakers with distinguished qualities. So

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am I, with former Secretaries of State and two Ministers of State, both involved in deer legislation. We have heard from a large number of noble Lords with great expertise who know their wild deer and the issues which surround them intimately. I also am conscious of the weight of accumulated knowledge that we have heard in the debate.

Perhaps I may say at the outset that with this Bill we have time now and while we go through the Committee and Report stages to discuss all the issues which have arisen tonight. We have time to discuss all the suggestions which have been made by those who reckon, on their experience, that there are different ways of approaching some parts of clauses. I shall welcome the opportunities, both within and outside the House to discuss many of the points which have been made.

I am therefore grateful that noble Lords taking part in the debate prepared and brought forward their experience and expertise. I am glad that most welcomed the generality of the Bill. Even my noble friend Lord Burton welcomed the first subsection, with the name change, even if not the rest of it. However, given the time we have available, I hope that we shall be able to alter the Bill as noble Lords seek who feel uneasy about it.

The issues which deer and deer management raise are many and varied. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to sheep and rabbits and their marauding qualities. It is a serious issue and there are other forms of browsing and damage caused by animals other than the wild red deer in Scotland. However, it is only the wild deer and the problems that they create that are the concern of the Deer Commission. Therefore, that commission will not be able to authorise any of the actions that the Bill will provide for, unless it is satisfied that the problem being tackled is created by wild deer.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy raised the interesting issue of contraceptives, be it pellets or by employing the hunger of deer in winter and some method of marinating forage in a contraceptive substance before the forage is put out for consumption. The important point that that raises is connected with the provisions we are putting in Clause 3. We want the Deer Commission to be able to indulge in research, experiments, demonstrations and so on. Therefore, if there are new methods and options for deer management which are being worked on by scientists or land managers, we shall welcome the fact that the Deer Commission can take an interest and if necessary promote the new methods.

I know that contraceptive pellets are being considered in seal management and my noble friend Lord Forbes raised that awkward issue. I was speaking to some Canadians recently who told me that they are getting closer to delivering pellets to seals and therefore there may be a way of delivering contraceptive pellets to deer. However, a huge amount is not yet known. For example, how long will the pellet be active and would one change the social patterns of a herd once hind stock are no longer properly coming into season? There are probably more questions as yet unanswered than there are answers.

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I am not sure for what reason but my noble friend Lord Glenarthur was worried about Clause 3 allowing the Deer Commission to take part in experiments, research and demonstration projects. Whether we are talking about new management techniques based on science or on land management, we hope that the Deer Commission will take on that research.

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