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Lord Glenarthur: I have a very great deal of sympathy with this amendment. During the passage of the 1982 Bill, there was quite a lot of discussion both on the Floor of the House and in the margins of the work being taken forward to develop that Bill and the
I well remember my noble friend Lord Mansfield, when he was in the position in which my noble friend Lord Lindsay now finds himself, and the late Lord Dulverton and indeed myself discussing at some length the three elements which seemed to be against the concept of tags: the development of a black market in tags, which my noble friend has described; the question of cost; and the question of administrative and bureaucratic effort, which might be needed to make the system work perfectly.
There was one other idea, which I believe I floated myself, which was connected with the question of records. The records which are described in Section 25B of the 1959 Act seemed to me to present something of an opportunity if at every stage in the handling of a carcass, from the moment that it reaches the larder to the time that it goes onto the dealer and subsequently to whatever the next stage in its processing, it had a record of some sort such as a multicoloured element attached to it--a different colour for each stage--which could be exactly the same as the venison dealer's record. I was not aware of the background to this, but if some sort of common form were to be introduced by the deer commission, that might make it easier.
I have to say that I find my noble friend's arguments about a tag, rather than the documentation which I have just described, much more appealing now than I might have done 14 years ago, not least because technology has moved on at a certain pace and it may well be possible to combine modern technology, machine-readable tags and so on in a way which would make this much simpler.
One other point is important. The opportunity to legislate on deer comes around only every fourteen or fifteen years. During the passage of the 1982 Bill, people said it would not happen for another 25 years. It has come forward rather more rapidly than that, but it would be a great mistake not to explore this very thoroughly. The opportunity must be taken to look at it carefully now. To miss the opportunity to do so when further technology might make it more possible would be a great shame. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say.
The Earl of Buchan: I have no idea what the noble Earl the Minister thinks about having this sprung on him at the eleventh hour, but I can guess. I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has brought it up for this reason. I have sat in Edinburgh and here and have learnt a great deal about deer, red deer and other deer. I would therefore be most unhappy about taking this on board now without a great deal more discussion. I am not at all happy about tags, or about poachers, or about efficient policing. I cannot
Viscount Astor: I am rather surprised at what the noble Earl said. The purpose of the Committee stage is for amendments to be tabled and for the Government to consider them. That is the way legislation works. It can work quite quickly. That is the way Bills progress.
To come back to my noble friend's amendment, it has certain advantages because the success of Highland estates is very much dependent on the successful marketing of their products. That means the price of venison being a decent price, and that depends on consumer confidence. We all know what happens when consumer confidence fails. We have seen it in cattle prices. I am sure that there are always arguments that this might be costly and it might be bureaucratic, but of course the cost fundamentally falls on the producers. In terms of bureaucracy, it is work for the producers to do, but we are not asking for anything more than what happens when selling beef cattle. Under the BSE rules, one has to have an extremely complicated passport in order to breed a cow to produce something to sell. That is there to give the consumer and the industry confidence. It has been very successful. I am sure your Lordships know that the price of beef has now risen to the levels it was before the previous scares. Anything we can do to enhance consumer confidence in the product, improve the quality of the product and benefit the venison producers in Scotland must be good for the whole process and must be ultimately good for the management of the deer.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Speaking as a cook, if I am going to buy venison I want to know that it has been produced under decent conditions and that it has been properly hung. That is what a tagging system would tell me. As the wife of an ex-deer forest owner, who, some years ago, went to a great deal of expense to modernise the larder so that his venison was produced under decent conditions, I would certainly reckon that any deer forest owner who did that would welcome the possibility of getting a better price.
The Earl of Lindsay: I shall deal with Amendment No. 75 of my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch in some detail. It raises many issues which are crucial to deer management. There are two visions in my mind, reinforced by the discussion in the Committee. One is of the real benefit of having tags, flagged up by various Members for various reasons. I shall come onto the question of how strong the argument is for mandatory tagging. Clearly, tags serve various purposes. These include the preference of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, for well-hung meat, with which I agree, to a wide range of other reasons. My noble friend Lord Astor mentioned BSE.
The other vision which springs to mind is the thought that the cull at the moment in Scotland is about 80,000 deer a year. We are talking about tagging every single bit of venison from Scotland. If we are going to be shooting more roe; if, for some reason--although red
My noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out that when he was dealing with what became the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Act of 1982, some of the disadvantages were identified; namely the black market element, the cost element and the administrative and bureaucratic element. Those are still issues which we would want to look at very carefully. While we acknowledge the benefits, we want to make very sure that in a deregulatory government we regulate in such a way that the benefits justify the effort. I need hardly point out that as a Scottish Office Minister, if I am to gain permission across the Government to pursue this, the benefits must clearly and significantly outweigh the cost disadvantage and the administrative disadvantage.
We are aware that this is an issue that has motivated discussion. There is some irony in that, as agriculture Minister in Scotland, I receive a good deal of flack from farmers about the cattle passports. We have just introduced the new sheep and goat identification directive--I forget the exact terminology. My noble friend Lord Astor prayed in aid the fact that farmers are used to having documents for cattle, but in fact we fight very fiercely to minimise them when we are negotiating in Europe, and then we do our utmost to persuade farmers that, because of animal health--and we are talking about the ill health of animals rather than the quality of meat--and because of subsidy, we have to put up with these systems. There are many beef and sheep farmers, and indeed goat farmers, who are not very keen about the way in which mandatory tagging and passporting is imposed on animals.
We are well aware of the discussion, both the recent discussion under Stephen Gibbs, and indeed the discussion which has gone back some decades. I would point out that no formal recommendations have been put to me or to the Scottish Office by the Red Deer Commission. We are aware that the working group came up with its recommendations, and I am aware that the Chairman of the Red Deer Commission in evidence in Edinburgh said that his personal opinion was that it probably should be voluntary and not mandatory. Despite all the consultation with the commission and with other bodies prior to this Bill and during the drafting of this Bill, this was not a formal part of the agenda. We are at a stage where for a Government Minister to be convinced that he should make a departure in this direction, he must be fairly certain that there is a real consensus behind it.
I fully understand the key benefit of traceability, and that guarantees of traceability within the food chain are increasingly important. This, in itself, may bring some benefits to some people, but I am not sure that there is a major difficulty on hygiene and food safety grounds on this point at present with venison.
On the key point of carcass identification and linking offal to carcasses, my veterinary advisors are confident that the existing systems of identification, run by dealers and suppliers, are working in a satisfactory manner. Beyond that, hygiene requirements are met by an emphasis on control of processes and procedures with a key element being inspection of carcasses at arrival in the slaughterhouse. I understand that the Red Deer Commission working group has met officials concerned with meat hygiene, and these views have been relayed to them.
If a carcass tagging system implies something more than a tag showing origin, such as certain guarantees of handling procedures following killing, then I can well see that customers such as the retail trade could see benefits and would wish to encourage suppliers to adopt such a system. This, however, would imply the equal possibility of a voluntary scheme in which participants in a certain scheme could seek competitive advantage over other competing venison producers who are not prepared to make that effort for competitive advantage. I question whether it needs to be mandatory for that reason. Furthermore ,it occurs to me that a mandatory carcass tagging system would presumably be based around the lowest acceptable common denominator, which falls within health and hygiene thresholds under law, whereas a voluntary tagging system can set what standards that group of people want and could therefore achieve a much higher quality quite deliberately.
In conversation with some of the people behind this system I was given to understand that three out of four of the largest venison wholesale buyers had already embarked on tagging systems with their producers and that the Forestry Commission as we know has its tagging system. So there is precedent for voluntary initiatives in this area.
We certainly welcome any steps taken by the food production industry to improve its marketing position, and my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has mentioned just how important it is to sell venison out of our remote and rural areas. It produces jobs and maintains livelihoods in those areas. We work through the Marketing Development Scheme to help the Association of Deer Management Groups and others in this field.
The imposition of a mandatory scheme requiring the act of tagging may not deliver the quality assurance which we say the multiple retailer is looking for where every single carcass in Scotland at any one time, from Wigtown to Caithness, is sitting with an identical tag.
As far as records of deer kills are concerned, there are other provisions in place for monitoring the killing of deer whose effectiveness has to be considered before weighing up the additional benefits on this point that the additional burden of the tagging system would bring. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur is well aware of the arrangements that he himself was involved in putting in place through the 1982 Act. The current system, where the deer commission checks through the venison dealers' licensing system, is possibly not absolutely perfect. It may be that it cannot claim to be 100 per cent. confident about the venison in Scotland, but I would suggest it may not be as inadequate as those promoting this amendment for mandatory tagging suggest. It may be that the deer commission gets sufficient idea of numbers and a very good idea of trends. Whether the 100,000 or 80,000 pieces of venison that are produced annually through the killing of deer in Scotland would not produce such a welter of information that it would take the deer commission much longer to sort out what was going on, I am not sure.
It is an important point that we are not just talking about red deer in this amendment. We are talking about very much larger numbers. We are also talking about an undefined group of people who can shoot. There are so many people in Scotland who have a right to kill and none of them has a statutory quota or limit within which he must remain. All of those many people, therefore, can shoot as many deer as circumstances allow.
The control of poaching may conceivably be enhanced by tagging. Once again, I pose the same question: would the additional burden of tagging justify the additional deterrent that tags might bring? We have various police powers from the 1959 Act, and we have in the 1982 Act further provisions, all of which can act as deterrents, but whether the complications and expense of the tagging system are more than compensated for by the increased control of poaching, I leave that as a question. It is something that we shall be wanting to look at as well.
Tagging works well in other countries, but that tends to be where individuals with a right to shoot deer are issued with legally binding limits. No one could possibly propose that that course of action should be followed in Scotland.
It is also important to recognise that, if carcass tagging is made mandatory, there will have to be a sanction for failure to attach a tag or for doing so illegally. Such a sanction could affect many people in
It has been suggested that the Bill could merely contain an enabling provision to allow the Secretary of State to introduce a carcass-tagging system if he considered it appropriate to do so. I know that this House has views about enabling legislation, but I know also that this House has enough common sense to know that if benefits outweighed the constitutional doubts, it would be prepared to go ahead and do it. However, if, after scrutiny and the consultation that this subject deserves, we find that the mandatory tagging system is not the right way to go forward, I suggest that we do not want to put an enabling power into the Bill for something that turned out to be ill-advised.
Because I agree with almost all the benefits that will arise from tagging that have been pointed out by noble Lords, I shall continue to support very enthusiastically the moves already made by the industry to introduce it. In fact, so significant are some of the benefits that I question whether the industry does not have sufficient incentive already to pursue voluntary tagging, whether it be marketing-oriented, hygiene-oriented, information-oriented or whatever, without having to resort to a compulsory system. The precedent for that is well established with the Forestry Commission and some deer groups.
I hope that I have acknowledged the real benefits that tags can bring. I hope also that I have described the real doubts that we have and the clarification that we think we need before we can give this a more enthusiastic response.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: If this clause consisted only of subsection (1) without the last two words "the scheme", it would merely be an enabling clause that would enable the Secretary of State to introduce a scheme if he thought fit without needing further primary legislation. Would the noble Earl care to comment on that?
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