HL Deb 19 January 1987 vol 483 cc709-11

2.49 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will recognise the contribution of deer farming to the rural economy and whether they will support the industry where possible.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Government recognises deer farming as a viable and developing part of the agricultural industry of the United Kingdom. Support is provided under the farm capital grant schemes, which cover capital items such as fencing specifically required for deer farming.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can he also say whether or not we are developing a good export trade to Germany and one or two other European countries?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not have the figures for exports, but one attraction of deer farming is the potiential market, and there seems to be a long way to go before deer farmers approach levels at which potential markets will become fully satisfied.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is the Minister aware that deer farming can do considerable damage to the environment, particularly to vegetation, if it is confined geographically to a fairly small area? Has the Minister by any chance seen the damage done on the island of Ramsey off the coast of Dyfed?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I confess to the noble Lord that I have not seen that particular part of the British Isles. It is fair to point out that, although any form of census has been started only this year in Scotland and we in England and Wales will wait to see how that census goes as regards deer farming, we estimate that there are not more than about 200 deer farms country-wide. Therefore, at the moment we are talking about a comparatively small operation but one which, as my noble friend Lady Elliot said, has considerable potential.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that his department is aware of the immense danger of distress being caused to these wild animals by putting them through a slaughtering process intended for domestic animals? The Minister's department has recently written to me about one such slaughtering operation in which ministry vets were present. Will he confirm that the practice of watching this sort of slaughtering, which is intended for domesticated animals, will continue to be very carefully supervised?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there are two very important recommendations in the Farm Animal Welfare Council's report on deer farming to which the Government will shortly respond. One of them is that there should be specific licensing of slaughterhouses. The other is that there should be a code of practice for slaughtering. As I said, I believe that we should wait until the Government give their response to the recommendations, and that response will be given shortly.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a problem with deer in the South of England? Is the grant for fencing available for those who do not want their gardens to be included in the grazing areas for deer?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I regret that I cannot satisfy my noble friend on that question. I think the answer is no.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, will deer come under the restrictions for beef which were announced recently by the EC?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords, because deer meat is not in surplus.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, is there any research into the breeding of deer which leap the least high and taste the best?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if there is, I am not aware of it. If I find that there is, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, will the noble Lord be kind enough to answer my specific question; namely whatever time we have to wait for the Government's guidelines, will he give an assurance that meanwhile any slaughtering will continue to be subject to supervision to avoid the danger of deep distress being caused to wild animals?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as I am sure the answer given by the ministry to the noble Lord said, within the limits of manpower we shall do our best to satisfy him on that point.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as agriculture slides deeper into over-production and recession many farmers are looking at deer farming to provide a substantial bolster to their depleting businesses? Does he accept that further support from the Government would be most welcome not only for the development of such enterprises but also for the marketing and development of associated products?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. As regards his final point, I am glad to say that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the organisation Food from Britain and the Highlands and Islands Development Board assisted the British Deer Farmers Association to set up and run its marketing co-operative—the British Deer Producers Society. As regards the future, which was the main thrust of my noble friend's question, the best encouragement that deer farming can have is the fact that, unlike so many other agricultural commodities, it is one which is not in surplus at present.