HL Deb 05 May 1987 vol 487 cc85-8

8.16 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Unlike the Bill that we have just been discussing this is a Bill of complete simplicity to do with deer farming in England and Wales. As your Lordships probably know, deer farming is a small but emerging industry which shows a certain amount of promise. There are only about 140 deer farmers in the two countries. The industry is hampered by the fact that it is still governed by laws relating to deer in the wild and the killing of them. This means that at certain times of the year, the deer farmer, according to the breeding cycle of the deer, is unable to sell venison or any of the by products that go with such farming—a quite considerable disadvantage in itself. But the situation is made worse by the fact that in Scotland this matter was rectified some time ago and an element of unfair competition therefore creeps in.

It is important that this industry is given every possible help. There is export potential. The meat is very popular on the Continent, particularly in Germany. It constitutes, albeit in a small way, an alternative crop. Later on this evening, we may be discussing those kinds of issues. I am told that the meat is very health giving. It is lean and good for people suffering from conditions of the heart.

The Bill is perfectly simple. Clause 1 states that deer sold from a farm out of season must be contained within a deer-proof fence and must be marked in a conspicuous manner. It says no more than that. But the provision allows the farmer then to sell his deer and so regulate the breeding cycle, as one would with cows or sheep, and to ensure that deer are not killed with a fawn inside them, or at foot, or anything of that kind.

There is no explanation to be given. Clause 2 is simply a formality. I wish to commend the Bill very strongly to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. (The Earl of Radnor.)

8.18 p.m.

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

My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Radnor for not being in my place when he began his speech moving the Second Reading of this Bill which the Government certainly support. I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the need for it and its main provisions. Although keeping deer for venison production has a long history, deer farming in Britain is relatively new. I am sure that with the increasing interest being shown by farmers in diversifying their activities we can expect this area of the agricultural industry to continue to grow. This is what is in the mind of my noble friend in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which has already been through all its stages in another place.

One particularly pleasing aspect of deer farming is the size of the potential market for its products. Venison is especially attractive to the increasing body of consumers who demand quality lean meat. As my noble friend said, it is seen as being a healthy food and there is also the opportunity to adapt the product by developing novel processed foods. British deer farmers have been taking an increasing share of the home venison market in recent times through farm gate sales, sales to hotels and catering establishments and, more recently, to supermarkets. I am glad to say that quality has been high.

However, continuity of supply is all important. This is really the basic reason for this Bill. As my noble friend has explained, the close season for deer in England and Wales as specified in the Deer Act 1963 is inappropriate and a hindrance which the Government wish, as my noble friend does, to see removed as soon as possible.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council, which recently looked into the welfare of farm deer, pointed out the inappropriateness of a close season in this particular context, as it is essentially to conserve the wild deer population and not farm deer. My noble friend has explained that steps are being taken in Scotland to correct this situation. The measure there has appeared to work well and I am pleased to see that my noble friend's measure has been drafted closely to match that adopted in Scotland. From the Government's point of view, we see no difficulty in its being operated successfully in England and Wales as well.

For those reasons, I support my noble friend in bringing this Bill to the House for a Second Reading. I hope it will receive a Second Reading and go through the subsequent stages to get on to the statute book.

8.22 p.m.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for being late in coming to the Chamber. He indicated that he would speak fairly briefly, but I did not realise that he would be as brief as he was.

I had thought that I would read the debate in the Commons on Second Reading but I found that the Bill went through on the nod, which did not give me a lot of help in what I might say. Like the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I agree that this measure is necessary for deer farmers. Farming deer behind a ring fence is a totally different matter from shooting deer in the open on the hills of Scotland and elsewhere.

There is one question that I should like to ask. There seems some scope for malpractice, if I may put it that way. I wonder whether experience in Scotland has shown that this has been able to be controlled.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned how great was the demand for venison and that people seemed to like it. I think it is an acquired taste, but, more important than that, one has to acquire knowledge of the way to cook it. It is amazing what a mess can be made of a roast of venison if one does not know that it must be kept inside tinfoil otherwise it will be as dry as an old loaf.

We give the Bill our blessing and again I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, for not being here when he introduced the Bill.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I am grateful both to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, for supporting this small, short but very important Bill. I am at a great disadvantage because I did not hear the end of the noble Lord's question, which does not give me a chance to answer. He said that there was perhaps scope for something, but I did not hear that one word.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, it has been possible in Scotland, though I am not sure for how long, to kill deer outside the close season. I wondered whether there was scope for malpractice in getting deer from outside on to the market because of this. I wondered whether there was any experience of it.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that. I suppose it would be wrong to say that there was no scope at all, but the ways that deer in Scotland have been marked—so far, apparently successfully—by ear-tagging, plastic collars and freeze banding would somehow draw attention if a deer was shot in the wild out of season or poached and then tagged. For a start people would start looking. I have a feeling that ear tagging done after death is different from that done after three months, which I think is advisable. All I can tell the noble Lord is that apparently this trouble has not been experienced so far. I have no doubt that there is somebody lurking in the wings who will have a try, but I suspect and hope he will be found out and suitably punished. All that remains for me to say is that. I hope the Bill will benefit the farming community and those who wish to take up deer farming.

8.25 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is it in order for just a moment for me to draw the House's attention to what I hope is never done?—that is, to send deer to an abattoir. They are highly sensitive animals and suffer great stress, far more than bullocks or horses. I am slightly out of order speaking about this. I shall sit down in a moment, but this matter is not in the Bill. I hope my noble friend the Minister will bear it in mind when he speaks to some of his fellow Ministers who are interested in this subject.

I hope that in the not too distant future we shall have a Bill that will forbid sending deer to abattoirs by lorry. It would be extremely cruel. All farmed deer should be shot on the farm. That is by far the kindest way. On some farms now one can shoot a deer and the deer beside it a few yards away will take no notice. I hope that will be borne in mind.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I think I can put my noble friend's fears at rest because there is nothing about abattoir killing in the Bill. Deer will continue to be killed as they are in the wild. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.