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Viscount Astor: I wish to support the amendment moved by my noble friend, but before I do so perhaps I can make two points. The first is to declare an interest. I am the tenant of a deer forest in Scotland on the Isle of Jura. The second point I should like to make is that I spent many hours reading the evidence of the Scottish Select Committee, which showed what a good job the committee did. However, one point about the committee rather alarmed me; that is, that it consisted only of Scottish Peers.
It may be said that that is a thoroughly sensible thing to do, but it rather concerns me. It seems to me that we are rather different from another place. We are not like the Commons in that we do not represent any area or constituency. Our writ of summons does not say that we come from a certain county that we must necessarily represent. We represent the whole of this country and therefore, in spite of the fact that, as a so-called English Peer, I am a member of the Scottish Peers' Association, because I was not a Scottish Peer as such, I was excluded from being on that Select Committee. There were probably other very good reasons for excluding me, but I hope it was not because I am English.
The point I should like to make is that we must not fall into the trap of having only Scottish Peers on Scottish Bills, any more than we should have only Welsh Peers on Welsh Bills or indeed English Peers on English Bills. It would be a great pity if all Scottish Peers were excluded from sitting on English Select Committees. Having made that plea to those who are in charge of those matters, perhaps I can come back to the amendment before us.
Lord Glenarthur: I very much support the amendment. The term "conservation" which appears in the Bill in subsection (1)(a) occurs also, of course, in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991. However, it does not go far enough in trying to indicate how deer are to be protected as well as dealt with in ways that the Bill describes in the light of the changes introduced by that Act. It seems to me that a real weakness exists here. The welfare of deer, however the term is used, is extremely important. I had thought that the husbandry of deer would be appropriate, but that is difficult to imagine with what is not a domestic animal. I support very much the tenor of the amendment. It would give a great deal of confidence to all concerned if somehow the concept of welfare could be brought into the Bill.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I start by declaring an interest. I am the owner of an estate in Scotland and I believe that there are 12 roe deer on it. I have not seen them but my forester tells me they are there. I support the inclusion of the word "welfare" on the face of the Bill.
I come back to the challenge over whether this is an issue for Scots Peers or anyone else. I was very heartened by the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, at col. 828 on Second Reading when he said:
In Scotland, we are a fairly dour bunch on occasion, not saying too much when we do not need to do so. However, I believe that the addition of a meaningful word such as "welfare" would be very useful and would clarify the issue for all time. I hope that the Minister will agree not to leave it implicit.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I should declare an interest. A family trust owns a deer forest, but I do not have a beneficial interest in the trust. The real point is that although it has been suggested that sustainable management includes welfare some of us are not entirely convinced.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: It is difficult to oppose the idea proposed by the amendment if one is concerned about the welfare of deer. But there is a problem. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, put me in a dilemma when he talked about the capacity of the environment. Who decides what the capacity of the environment is? The shooters may have quite a different
On the other hand, I understand that the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill either has had or is about to have Royal Assent and since we are concerned to some extent with the whole question of animal welfare--at least I hope we are--it would be very difficult not to accept the amendment, although we have a great deal more work to do in deciding what capacity a deer forest or a deer area can hold. I do believe it means different things to different people. However, by and large I will give my support to the inclusion of welfare.
Baroness Robson of Kiddington: I would very much like to support this amendment and while doing it, I would like to point out that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said that it should not only be Scottish Peers who take part in this Bill. He said he was not a Scottish Peer! I am neither Scottish, Welsh nor English because I was not born in this country, so I am a British Peer, and I would like to take part on that basis.
At Second Reading I spent some time on the importance of introducing the word "welfare" and although I am a British Life Peer I do have an estate in Scotland and I do have a deer forest. It is at the heart of every person who is involved in Scotland to have a feeling for the welfare of the deer on their land. I would therefore very much like to support the amendment.
Viscount Astor: Perhaps I may briefly advise the noble Baroness since she was kind enough to mention that she is a British Peer--indeed so are we all. The point I was making was that it was not this Committee, because this is a Committee of the Whole House, but the Scottish Select Committee which sat in Scotland.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): Very little separates us here. Everything that those who have spoken want, I also want. The difference between us, which I hope is a very small one, is how we go about achieving that and how we do so without risking other consequences. I would just say to my noble friend Lord Astor that the membership of the committee was agreed by the House on a Motion from the Committee of Selection. The best thing I can do is to pass on to that committee what my noble friend has said so that it can bear in mind the points made. In fact, I entirely agree with him. The whole strength of the House is in the fact that we have a very wide range of wisdom and expertise. My noble friend's expertise in Scottish deer is well known. I will make sure that the message gets through.
In fact, welfare is acknowledged in certain provisions in the 1959 Act; for instance, in the close season and anti-poaching provisions and restrictions on the methods of killing deer, including the commission's published code on night shooting. Welfare is also an integral part of sustainable management. The concept that deer should live in balance with their habitats needs to be pursued as much for the long-term welfare of the deer themselves as for environmental considerations. Under the Act as it stands, therefore, the commission takes account of the welfare of the deer in exercising its specific functions.
I return to the assertion that I made both at Second Reading and in Edinburgh that welfare is implicit both within the 1959 Act and the Bill, and that the welfare considerations in the Bill have been strengthened in comparison with the 1959 Act. For instance, we are taking action on night shooting, which strengthens the welfare provisions which attach to deer in that respect.
I also disagree with my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch that sustainable management, and indeed conservation, must include an element of welfare. There is no way that cruel practices could fall within the definition of sustainable management or of conservation.
The question of whether welfare should appear on the face of the Bill in a more general way was raised at various stages. As a result, I asked my officials to look at that question again to see if it is possible to incorporate the term in a general way in the Bill. However, I am advised, principally on legal grounds, not to include the term in that way, given that the Act already makes sufficient provision, wherever appropriate, for deer welfare.
The legislation is based on the proposition that deer, as wild animals, may live where and as they please, except where they are in conflict with other legitimate land uses. Where action has to be taken against deer, the legislation ensures that such action will be humane. The welfare content of the legislation is therefore already implicit and appropriate for the purpose for which the legislation was intended.
There are quite powerful legal arguments against the inclusion of the term: first, both Parliament and the courts would expect that changes to the wording of the Act signal a material change to the way things are done. It should not therefore be done for purely presentational reasons. Secondly, the inclusion of deer welfare as a general function of the commission under the revised Section 1(1) of the 1959 Act, as set out in Amendment No. 1, could be interpreted as imposing a primary duty of care on the commission to promote the welfare of deer. That may all too easily conflict with the legitimate
Thirdly, if welfare were introduced into the commission's balancing duty (under the proposed Section 1(1A)), it could signal an intended shift in the balance between "human interests" and those of the deer. Finally, we have to be sure that the term "welfare" could not be interpreted so as to prevent the commission properly carrying out its statutory functions in relation to control of deer which are threatening the land use and other interests which the legislation aims to protect.
While I sympathise with the wishes of those who asked that deer welfare be included on the face of the Bill, and I will give the matter further consideration, I must at the moment caution against such an approach because of the warnings I received from parliamentary draftsmen and other legal experts. I believe that there may well be other methods of control that, within a period of eight to 10 years, could become realistic and practical. I have been looking recently into the different methods of control which should become possible for grey squirrels, for instance, and for grey seals. In both those areas of work, it is felt that contraceptive control may be only eight years away. It may not be unrealistic, therefore, to assume that alternative approaches to rifle shooting will be available for controlling deer within 10 years. If welfare is in any way interpreted as the avoidance of pain, there might be an insistence that rifle shooting is replaced by other methods of control.
I should like to add one brief comment on the definition of welfare suggested by the noble Lord in Clause 85, where he suggests that it would involve the taking or killing of old or unhealthy animals. I am well aware that on many stalking estates a high priority is also placed on taking animals which may be young and healthy but which may be called "switches" as I know them--they have single spiked antlers which can cause considerable damage during the rut. Any attempt to define welfare could lead to problems at a later stage. I am also aware that some environmental and animal conservation groups are not convinced that, if you are properly managing any number of animals, you should necessarily only take the old and the unhealthy. It may be necessary to take a wide spectrum across a certain colony of animals for very sound conservation reasons.
I am determined that welfare is essential to the Bill. I am determined that the way in which we handle Clause 1 and the duties imposed in terms of conservation, control and sustainable management and the way we handle other areas of the Bill such as night shooting have welfare at their heart. I am determined that we deliver what all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment want. At the moment, while officials continue to look at the request that we try to put welfare as a general provision on to the face of the Bill, I counsel caution. There are too many dangers if we draft welfare incorrectly. It is a high risk strategy. Much is to be gained by ensuring that the detail of the Bill implies or denotes welfare, but we can lose a great deal if we get the general definition wrong.
One of the primary definitions of welfare which may come to the fore in later years could be the right to life. That could have unfortunate consequences on traditional methods of deer control. The central point, however, is that I want the Bill to achieve everything that those who support the amendment want the Bill to achieve, but my concern is how we achieve it on the face of the Bill. I do not want the Bill to become bad legislation through bad drafting.
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