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21 Mar 1996 : Column 1412

Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill [H.L.]

6.10 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Constitution, functions and membership of Deer Commission for Scotland.]:

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 16, after ("conservation,") insert ("humane,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by declaring the same interests as I declared at our Committee proceedings and at Second Reading in that I own a deer forest in Scotland and I sit on the Stalking Committee of the British Field Sports Society.

Together with Amendment No. 1, I would like to speak to Amendment No. 2 and Amendment No. 60 with which it is grouped. These amendments continue attempts to get the welfare of deer onto the face of the Bill, as a matter which the commission must respect as it goes about its duties. At the Committee stage we attempted to insert the welfare of deer among the main functions of the new commission. Now we are merely trying to suggest that any control of deer numbers must be humane, as per Amendment No. 1. The words "the welfare of deer" are now proposed under Amendment No. 2 for inclusion in the new commission's balancing duties, so that the commission in exercising its functions would have the duty:

    "to take such account as may be appropriate in the circumstances of--

    (a) the size and density of the deer population and its impact on the natural heritage",
and it is here that we would insert under (b) "the welfare of deer".

Then the clause would go on to read:

    "the needs of agriculture and forestry; and ... the interests of owners and occupiers of land".

Amendment No. 60 suggests a new definition for the meaning of the word "welfare" which may not yet be perfect but which attempts to meet the objections raised at Committee stage and made elsewhere since. Our suggested definition in Amendment No. 60 therefore is as follows:

    "'welfare' includes the concept that wild deer are living in a healthy condition within the carrying capacity of their normal range for the time of year in question, and that management to achieve this requires maintaining the herd at a number which does not exceed that carrying capacity, by means which should not cause unnecessary suffering and which include the use of firearms and ammunition as sanctioned by section 23A of this Act".

As I understand the matter, the objections to including "welfare" on the face of the Bill are largely twofold. First, there is the fear that one day those who enjoy stalking may be prevented from shooting deer because the meaning of welfare may come to mean that. I trust that the amendment deals with that point. Secondly, there is the fear that welfare might prevent some of the more severe exercises to reduce deer numbers and therefore defeat what some people appear to think should be one of the main purposes of the Bill. I hope that Amendment No. 60, as worded, gives some comfort there too.

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I appreciate that it is possible to criticise the wording by saying, for example, that the wording--to quote the amendment--

    "deer ... living in a healthy condition within the carrying capacity of their normal range"
is not sufficiently tight legally. One could perhaps find a tighter or different formula. One could perhaps define a healthy herd as one which does not, on a three-year average, lose more than 10 per cent. of its beasts under 12 years of age through death in the late winter and early spring. One could perhaps stipulate that a healthy herd of hinds should not have more than, say, 20 per cent. of its number which have not calved in the previous year. Both those indications would suggest that there were too many deer for the carrying capacity of the range in question.

I shall not weary the House further with such technical suggestions, which should in any case probably be encapsulated in guidelines issued by the future commission. I merely remind your Lordships that there was unanimity in our hearings in Edinburgh from all sides of the land use debate that the welfare of deer should be clearly stated as the duty of the new commission. I also remind your Lordships that there was similar unanimity in our Committee proceedings in the Moses Room on 4th March with, on that occasion, I regret to say, the dissent of my noble friend the Minister.

In those circumstances, I hope that the Minister can be somewhat more accommodating today. I commend the amendments to your Lordships and beg to move.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 2. I am aware that the Minister has put forward an amendment which mentions the word "welfare of deer". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that it is essential that the words "welfare of deer" should appear at the beginning of the Bill. That then helps to govern everything else that is to be enacted in the Bill. I should very much like to support Amendment No. 2.

6.15 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard: My Lords, I too support this amendment. The red deer is our largest indigenous wild mammal. To my mind it is one of the noblest of animals. Why is it that every man's hand seeks to be against it?

So far as I can see, this Bill is largely about killing deer. In fact the word "extermination" was originally in it. I am very glad to see that people are now talking about the welfare of the deer.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I was interested to receive a letter from the Scottish Landowners' Federation. Noble Lords will appreciate that that organisation does not simply involve people who own deer forests and that kind of thing. Many small landowners are involved as well as people who are closely concerned with the environmental movement and so on.

On this subject, the federation said:

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    "The welfare of deer is important. We think it is appropriate that the Deer Commission for Scotland should have some statutory duties relating to deer welfare".
The federation then says what it thinks deer welfare means and goes on to say:

    "Having heard the Minister's reply at Committee stage to the debate on whether the Commission should have a duty to further the welfare of deer, we agree with the Minister that the Commission should not be given such a duty. We do think, however, that it would be very useful to include deer welfare in the balancing duties of the Commission in the proposed new Section 1(1)(a) of the principal Act. The Commission would therefore have a duty to take such account as may be appropriate in the circumstances of deer welfare".

Those comments seem to me interesting in view of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. They relate to the same point. I should be interested to know whether my noble friend the Minister has anything to say on that matter.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I suppose that I should repeat the declaration of interest that I have made at every other stage of the Bill; namely, that my family owns a deer forest, although I do not have any direct financial interest in it. Also, perhaps I might mention, on the other side of the fence, as it were, that in another part of the country I own plantations which are now quite well grown. The contractors who put up the fences before we planted managed to fence in a buck and two does, and as a result I had very great difficulty in growing them in the first instance. Therefore, my interests are in two directions. Needless to say, as my name is on Amendment No. 2, I support it.

The Earl of Buchan: My Lords, I too support the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in the amendment, despite the fact that at Committee stage he accused me of not paying attention to what he said and not listening. Having been in the noble Lord's presence for four days, I can assure him that it is absolutely impossible not to hear him. I support him on this amendment.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, it is nice to hear further unanimity around the House on this amendment. My noble friend Lord Pearson was a little unfair to me when he said that I was the only person in Committee to break the unanimity in that I acknowledged then--and I acknowledge now--that the sentiment behind the amendment tallies exactly with my own sentiments and with the policy that lies behind the Bill.

I shall not repeat what I said in Committee. Noble Lords may read it all in Hansard. The point is that "welfare" appears throughout the 1959 Act and indeed in this Bill in specific provisions made, for instance, for night shooting and out of season shooting regarding the firearms with which one can take deer and so forth.

I repeat the fact that welfare is a key element of our deer legislation. If it can be incorporated in such a way as to be consistent with the rest of the Bill, I shall be very pleased to accept it. Consequently, I have been looking very carefully to see whether a formula can be found to ensure that the commission can take into account welfare considerations across its range of functions, while not conflicting with the general functions that we lay upon it through this Bill.

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I wanted to hear the thoughts of noble Lords on this amendment and also to give my draftsman a little more time to work out suggestions regarding the inclusion of welfare in Clause 1. There will be serious legal difficulties if we get it wrong. Therefore, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn on the basis that I shall bring forward an amendment on welfare at Third Reading.

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