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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I think I am quite happy with that explanation. I shall read very carefully what the noble Earl said and discuss the matter with my friends. Possibly, we could talk about it before Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 not moved.]

8.30 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 7, line 12, leave out ("shoot") and insert ("take or kill").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 38 to 41 when moving Amendment No. 22. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 7, line 12, at end insert (", and to sell or otherwise dispose of,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 40 and 41:

Page 7, line 16, leave out ("shooting") and insert ("taking or killing").
Page 7, line 19, leave out ("method") and insert ("means").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 7, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("subject") in line 23.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have just spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 7, line 25, leave out ("occupier") and insert ("owner").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when I moved Amendment No. 35. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 48 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 8, line 2, leave out ("method") and insert ("means").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when moving Amendment No. 21. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 50:

After Clause 8, insert the following new clause--

Carcass tagging

("After section 25F of the principal Act there shall be inserted the following section--
"Carcass tagging.
25G.--(1) For the purpose of monitoring the quality and source of venison sold in Scotland the Secretary of State may by regulations made by order subject to an approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament introduce a scheme to make provision for the identification of all deer carcasses sold within Scotland ("the scheme"), as may from time to time be defined in the regulations.
(2) The scheme shall require any such carcass sold to bear a tag in a form approved and issued by the Commission and bearing an individual mark or number for each carcass, identifying the producer, the year of issue and the carcass number.
(3) It shall be a requirement of the scheme that any person requiring to sell a deer carcass shall obtain in advance from the Commission the relevant tags and shall affix them to any carcass sold in such manner as may be specified.
(4) At the expiry of the year to which any unused tag relates, the producer or dealer to whom it was issued shall return the same to the Commission.
(5) It shall be an offence for any person to sell, offer or expose for sale or to receive or to have in his possession, transport or cause to be transported for the purpose of sale on any premises any carcass not bearing a tag in such form as may be specified by the scheme.
(6) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (5) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.".").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment proposes to introduce a system of tagging carcasses, subject to an order made at some future date by the Secretary of State. I emphasise that it is in that sense only an enabling measure. The latest version of the amendment makes those regulations subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament to introduce the scheme in question.

The amendment has also been slightly revised to make clear that the clause would apply only to carcasses. There would not be any question of various other parts of the deer having to be tagged. The advantage of the Secretary of State bringing in this system by regulations to identify such deer carcasses sold within Scotland as may from time to time be defined in those regulations is that it could start slowly. We should not have to have a system under which every deer in Scotland, including roe deer, would have to be tagged from the start. It would enable the scheme to start slowly, perhaps with red deer.

There has been strong support from all the major dealers in venison in Scotland; and even, I see, a large dealer in England has written to my noble friend the Minister saying that he feels that the scheme ought to apply in England. He was good enough to send me a copy. At Committee stage my noble friend said that he felt that such a scheme would be better introduced through a voluntary system rather than through an eventual statutory system. The problem with that approach is that a voluntary system would not cover those deer which are not regularly or properly in the system; in other words, it would not cover poached deer.

I do not in the least make a pitch for this new clause as a weapon to be used against poaching. However, with the poaching problem comes the problem of quality. I think I am right in saying that something like 15 per cent. of hinds which do not appear to have gone through estate books turn up in dealers' premises. It may be that a certain percentage, perhaps half of that figure, is given away locally or eaten by the estate in question. But it is perfectly clear that there is a substantial leakage in the system at the moment. That has an effect on the quality and traceability of the venison in question.

There is also the problem that at the moment we do not know how many deer are shot. I have made that point before but it is worth emphasising. If we are to have proper deer management in future in Scotland, we must know how many of them there are and how many are shot. A statutory tagging system would go a long way to achieving that. It would not perhaps be completely watertight, but it would be very much better than the system that we have at the moment.

We have many years to go with the Act. I do know how many years it is envisaged that it will last before it is changed--perhaps 25 years--and we may all come to realise that we need such a system in the future. It seems to me shortsighted not to have at least the very simple enabling power, subject to regulations, which are in turn

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subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament now. Therefore I continue to support this concept. I beg to move.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, as I said at Committee, although this amendment would introduce a number of complexities, we should miss a trick if we allow this piece of legislation to go onto the statute book without it encompassing the measure that my noble friend described. I said in Committee that this was an issue looked at in 1982 for the earlier Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

A number of difficulties were identified at that stage but there seemed to be a very strong body of opinion--certainly it came from the venison dealers to which my noble friend Lord Pearson referred as well as from others--that such a scheme was highly desirable. Part of that concern at any rate addressed the matter of poaching and how poached deer could be identified as well as the enhancement of monitoring sources of venison and all those other elements that my noble friend describes in his amendment.

The amendment is enabling. It provides something upon which action can be taken if circumstances warrant in due course. I hope that this opportunity will be taken.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard: My Lords, I also should like to support the amendment. It is an excellent idea, especially as regards making poaching more difficult or at least disposing of the carcasses. In fact, in properly run deer forests today all the carcasses are labelled for the game dealers. So in fact there would not be any extra aggravation at all.

The Earl of Woolton: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 50. On two occasions, both here and in Committee, my noble friend Lord Pearson set out powerful arguments for a mandatory tagging scheme. I do not intend to repeat them. However, I should like to make a few brief comments on the venison industry and how a mandatory system would benefit the marketing of venison.

My noble friend Lord Pearson referred to the feasibility study completed last year by the Association of Deer Management Groups. I received a more recent paper by the association on the administration of such a scheme which I hope has been seen by my noble friend the Minister as it addressed many of the anxieties he expressed in Committee. Both studies have taken the debate forward significantly and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on this.

Perhaps I may comment briefly on one issue associated with marketing wild venison to the major retailers. It was raised in passing by my noble friend Lord Pearson in Committee and relates to the demands that retailers can put on producers so that venison products meet the same standards of traceability required of other meat products. In the venison industry those demands can include the transfer of the carcass to the larder within three hours of killing; carcasses in the larder not touching each other or the larder walls; stalkers being trained in elementary food hygiene; larders being approved by local environmental health

21 Mar 1996 : Column 1453

officers and stags and hinds averaging set weights and ages. Many of those demands may be sensible, but others are quite impractical.

My reasons for listing those demands are to show how important it is to retailers that venison meets the highest possible standards. I cannot see how, unless there is a mandatory scheme in place, it will ever be possible to raise the general standards of production to a level where retailers will accept wild venison. I recognise that even then they may not.

A clear and defined market has been identified for Scottish wild venison. It is a product of which we can all be justly proud in Scotland. Public acceptability of venison products generally is still patchy and will remain so until the major retailers can be persuaded that production and processing procedures are of the highest standards. A mandatory scheme will, I believe, along with the other initiatives being promoted by the industry itself, kick-start that process at a crucial time. The voluntary principle has worked only so far, and I fear that unless the Government are willing to assist, much of the progress made will be undermined. Given that this is only an enabling measure, I hope the Minister can be persuaded to accept the amendment.

8.45 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the eloquent way in which my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved the amendment and other noble Lords spoke of the various aspects that carcass-tagging raises.

In Committee I made it clear that I have an open mind on the subject of carcass tagging. I can see how a well-organised system of tagging of carcasses could bring benefits to those concerned about the origin of foodstuffs, as well as to those concerned about keeping more effective details on deer killed in Scotland.

I have considered very carefully the proposals made by the Association of Deer Management Groups for mandatory carcass tagging and have met Stephen Gibbs and Richard Cooke from the association to discuss them. I understand the points that they and others are making and am prepared to see them fully evaluated.

While carcass tagging would bring certain benefits however, it is also clear that it would impose burdens on those who have the right to shoot deer and, possibly, those who deal in venison. In the current deregulatory climate it is essential before proceeding with a proposal such as this to look very carefully at the implications of the proposal, to make a rational judgment as to whether the public and private benefits that would be gained from such a step would outweigh significantly the burdens it would impose.

While I would not want to prejudge any full consultation exercise that might be carried out on these proposals at present I am not convinced that the benefits would outweigh the burdens. In particular, I see real difficulties in enforcing such a scheme in a country where there are no statutory limits on the number of deer people can shoot and no obligation on those with the right to kill deer to register with any relevant

21 Mar 1996 : Column 1454

authority or other body. Both those points must be major barriers to the effective operation of a worthwhile mandatory carcass tagging scheme in Scotland.

My noble friend Lord Woolton mentioned food quality and hygiene as being one of the benefits that would arise. In relation to food quality and hygiene, I can see how a tagging system would offer reassurance on the origin of deer carcasses if the system works effectively. But I am advised by my veterinary advisers that as far as they are concerned the current system of veterinary controls on handling venison is working in a satisfactory manner. The controls that they and environmental health officers operate focus in any case on procedures and practices in handling deer in larders and slaughterhouses. Where matching of pluck and carcass is concerned I am not advised that there is currently a problem on hygiene grounds, although I would of course be prepared to look at the matter again if evidence to the contrary comes to light.

In relation to information about deer kills, about which my noble friend Lord Pearson feels strongly, I acknowledge that there is no current source of entirely accurate information about deer kills in every part of Scotland. But the Red Deer Commission's current system of census returns by deer managers and analysis of venison dealers' records offers a reasonably reliable indicator of total deer culls which for the most part is satisfactory for the purposes to which it is put. I am not convinced that the adoption of a mandatory carcass tagging system would add significant value to the current information system.

My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard dealt with the poaching issue. I can certainly imagine that a mandatory carcass tagging system could be a significant addition to the current means used to deter poaching. It would impose a degree of discipline on the venison-handling chain in this regard which is currently lacking. I do worry, however, that the difficulties I foresee in enforcement of the tagging requirement could significantly detract from its effectiveness; we could find valuable police and other resources devoted to enforcement of the tagging requirement when the real culprits are allowed to get on with the act of poaching itself. The amendment I am proposing separately to recast the offence of the illegal possession of venison, at the specific request of the Crown Office, is likely to have more practical effect on the practice of poaching than would tagging.

I can see more reason for tagging if the industry was to choose to introduce it on a voluntary basis. I put it to Stephen Gibbs that a voluntary system allied to guarantees about handling as well as origin could achieve real benefits for participating estates and dealers; they would be doing what the retail and export trade is increasingly demanding and consequently improving their own market position for the long run at the expense of those who do not follow the tagging scheme. I still think that a properly funded voluntary scheme deserves full consideration and hope that those involved will give it such. The commercial advantage mentioned by my noble friend Lord Woolton is very relevant and is as much an incentive for a voluntary tagging scheme as a mandatory scheme.

21 Mar 1996 : Column 1455

If, after all those points have been given careful thought, the conclusion of the industry and other concerned bodies is that a compulsory scheme is still necessary, then I will of course give that proposal the attention it deserves.

One suggestion that has been made is that we limit ourselves to an enabling provision to allow the Secretary of State to introduce a mandatory tagging system by order if, after full consideration, it appears to him sensible to do so. The argument why we should adopt such a provision now, even though the case for mandatory tagging is at best not proven, is that opportunities for deer legislation are few and far between and it would be wrong to miss this opportunity which may not come round again for many years.

I am reluctant to support a statutory provision of this sort when the principle has not been fully established. Parliament guards its prerogative of legislation with care and I do not see how an exception to this rule should be made on this occasion. In any case it is by no means impossible that parliamentary time could be found for a small Bill to introduce mandatory tagging at some point in the near future if the case is to be fully substantiated--as well as the normal Private Members' procedures.

I remind the House that recent reforms introduced a fast-track system for Scottish business. It is just such a small provision which is unique to Scotland that the fast-track system is designed to accommodate. I fully acknowledge this has been a useful debate and this is an issue that raises some very important consequences, be they benefits or costs that arise from deer management generally. I reiterate the fact that I am open-minded on this. If the sufficient consensus and evaluation can be delivered to us during the passage of this Bill, if there remains time, or in the fast-track Scottish system for legislation, then it is something that Ministers would be prepared to pursue.

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