HL Deb 04 December 1995 vol 567 cc825-62

3.8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is intended to update the legal framework under which wild deer in Scotland are managed. Wild deer, especially our native red and roe deer, are an integral part of our natural and cultural heritage. They contribute significantly to the economic life of much of rural Scotland, especially our most remote areas. Deer are our largest wild land mammal and there are no natural predators. They therefore need effective management to allow them to live in harmony with their habitat and other land uses. The purpose of the new Bill is to ensure that deer managers and in particular the Deer Commission have the powers they need for the future to carry out the necessary management tasks effectively.

In Scots law, deer are classified as res nullius, meaning that when alive they belong to no one. Traditionally however the right to kill deer goes with ownership of the land. Consequently, the rights and benefits of managing deer, and the parallel responsibilities which go with them, fall to the landowner. In recognition however of the impact deer can have on other legitimate land uses, the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 gave certain rights to occupiers of land to take action to prevent deer damage. The 1959 Act also set down a framework of measures regulating the killing of deer, including provision for the setting of close seasons, controls on night shooting and other matters. These other measures were variously designed to protect the welfare of deer and also to control poaching. Just as importantly, the 1959 Act set up the Red Deer Commission as the Government's statutory adviser on deer. The commission was given powers to promote action to manage deer effectively, including advising deer managers on the conservation and control of deer and authorising action outwith the general framework of the close seasons to protect against deer damage to agriculture and forestry.

This legislative framework has proved invaluable over the past 35 years and it has allowed the Red Deer Commission to resolve successfully many of the long-standing conflicts over deer, especially in the Highlands and Islands. Some noble Lords present today may recall the complaints made in the 1950s by occupiers of farm and croft land in the red deer range and the controversy that resulted from this. Following the implementation of the 1959 Act, these problems became much less widespread. I know that farmers and crofters remain concerned about specific difficulties in some areas, but am encouraged that the commission, particularly through the efforts of the hardworking chairman and expert staff, is taking active steps to resolve problems when they arise.

Time moves on and circumstances change. From a land use point of view there has been a substantial increase in forestry planting and this has both reduced the traditional red deer range and provided additional potential habitats for deer of all species—red, roe and sika deer. We have also seen an increase in deer populations with, for example, an estimated doubling in the approximate numbers of red deer in Scotland from 1963 to 1989. As a result, concerns have grown that the number of deer in some areas is out of balance not only with other land uses, but with the habitat. This, in turn, has led to concerns about the long-term welfare of the deer and the threat of damage to the natural heritage. For the traditional deer estate, there is also the loss of income that results from the increased shooting of mature stags as marauding animals in winter, driven away from their traditional range by increasing hind numbers.

The Red Deer Commission has sought to address these new concerns. It has worked closely with the Forestry Commission to encourage more effective control of deer in woodland and it has provided advice to the Forestry Authority on the design and planning of new woodlands. It has also sought to encourage communication and, where relevant, co-operative action between deer managers through the medium of deer management groups, set up and run by deer managers themselves but with the backing and advice of the commission. Such groups now cover most of the deer range and are increasingly active in promoting measures to tackle effective population control. The Government strongly back the voluntary approach to promoting good deer management practices and the general thrust of this Bill, as with the 1959 Act itself, is designed to stress co-operation and consent where at all possible. The voluntary principle remains the central pillar.

The Red Deer Commission has however been working very much at the limits of the powers available to it through the 1959 Act, as amended, and it is to be congratulated on the resourceful manner in which it has approached the new problems facing deer managers. There is a clear need now for the legislation to be updated and for the commission to be given wider and more flexible powers to tackle the problems as they exist at the end of the 20th century.

There is a particular need for powers for the commission and deer managers to take action in respect of damage to the natural heritage. Although those concerned in the 1950s with natural heritage matters, including the then Nature Conservancy, were closely interested in the relationship between deer and their natural habitats, the whole issue of environmental sustainability did not have the same importance in public and policy terms at that time as it has now. In addition, deer numbers have increased dramatically and, as I stated, red deer numbers have more than doubled in the short period of just 25 years.

The current legislation acts as a constraint on those who wish to protect the natural heritage and it can also act to constrain private managers who wish to protect natural heritage features in which they themselves have made significant investment such as grouse moors. On that and other related matters, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Woolton is able to make his maiden speech today. He has experience and knowledge of these areas.

The Government issued a consultation paper in late 1991 proposing changes to deer legislation to reflect the natural heritage dimension to deer management. It also proposed certain other changes to the general law on the rights of owners and occupiers to shoot deer to meet current and future requirements for balancing other land use concerns with the interests of deer and deer managers. Following the consultation period, my honourable friend the Member for Dumfries, my distinguished predecessor as the Minister for agriculture and environment at the Scottish Office, asked the Red Deer Commission to consider the responses to the consultation paper. The commission put forward its proposals for legislative change in 1994, after discussions with relevant bodies. It is to its credit that it was able to achieve a large measure of consensus between the various groups with an interest in the management of deer. Following subsequent consideration inside government and with key outside bodies the Member for Dumfries announced the government proposals for legislative change in May of this year. The Bill before the House is intended to put these proposals into effect.

At the same time as progressing proposals for change in deer legislation, the Government have also stepped up their support for the Red Deer Commission. Following the appointment of Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington as chairman of the commission in 1993, a role which he is carrying out with considerable skill and determination, the Government have strengthened significantly their budgetary provision for the commission. This increased budget (now standing at over £600,000, and likely to rise as a result of this Bill) has enabled the commission to open a new office in Stirling. It has also enabled the commission to increase the level of support it can provide to deer management groups through the new deer liaison officer posts.

The commission will never be a large bureaucracy, and indeed that is the key to its continuing effectiveness; it does not have grant-giving powers and depends very much for the most part on using advice, guidance and persuasion to encourage others to adopt and continue good deer management practices. But it is important that the organisation has the necessary resources at its disposal to carry out its main tasks effectively, and the Government are committed to seeing this happen.

This Bill tackles several key issues facing the commission and deer managers today. First, the general powers of the commission will be expanded to allow it to promote good deer management practices across the range of issues affecting deer. In particular, these powers will allow it to promote action relating to all species of deer established in Scotland and all aspects of the relationship between deer and their habitats. Red deer will remain an important focus of the commission, given their economic, social and environmental significance, especially in upland Scotland. But these new powers will also reflect and develop further the interest already taken by the commission and deer managers in the management issues affecting other species of deer, especially sika and roe following the extension of some of its powers to cover those species in the Deer (Amendment)(Scotland) Act 1982, which was piloted through the House with some considerable skill and fortitude by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur. It is important that the commission has the full range of powers for the various species of deer which will allow it to promote effective action in ways which, nevertheless, can still take account of the individual characteristics of different species.

In recognition of this change, the Bill would re-name the commission the "Deer Commission for Scotland". On this I should perhaps add that the addition of "Scotland" will not mean any change in the territorial coverage of the commission, which is currently limited to Scotland only. I am sure that noble Lords understand that the specific nature of deer issues affecting us in Scotland differ, sometimes, considerably from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom and that therefore a specific Scottish approach to deer is required.

The Bill will also give the commission, through Clause 3, general powers to promote good practice in deer management by broadening its current advisory role and by allowing it to engage in demonstration projects. These general powers are in many ways the most important aspects of the commission's day to day role in promoting good deer management. Since for most purposes deer management in Scotland is carried out by local managers, it is essential that it has access to up-to-date and consistent advice and support. Just as importantly, these revised powers will allow the commission to develop further its current support for deer management groups, which provide an increasingly effective mechanism for co-ordinating action by deer managers in particular deer ranges.

The Bill contains a provision in Clause 2 to give more flexibility to the commission in deciding on the composition of local panels it can appoint to assist it in its work in local areas. In most circumstances we expect the commission to continue to work with the local voluntary deer management groups to which I have already referred. However, in exceptional circumstances, perhaps where a deer management group does not exist in a particular area, or where there is a need for action by several deer management groups jointly, there might well be a need for these statutory provisions to be put into effect. The new flexibility that the Bill will allow in this respect will ensure that the panel selected is the most appropriate for the issues affecting particular areas.

In parallel with the re-naming of the commission and the extension of its general powers, the Bill also contains in Clause 1 provisions to permit more flexibility in the system of making appointments to the commission. The current provisions set out a strict numerical formula for selecting members from nominees of specific interest groups and bodies. Those interest groups reflect very much the interests in deer as they were perceived in 1959, when the Act was passed. Although the bodies named in the Act remain important in the context of deer, the Act as it stands does not reflect the full range of bodies and individuals with interests currently in deer and their management. Moreover, while many distinguished people have served on the commission since its inception, the current system does not always allow the best available candidates to be appointed on merit.

The Bill therefore includes provisions which will allow a wider range of candidates to be considered. The Bill does, however, stress the need for such candidates to have knowledge and experience of the key issues facing the commission; namely, deer management itself, agriculture including crofting, woodland management and forestry and the natural heritage. It is important that members have this practical experience and knowledge so that they can reach decisions with a clear understanding of their implications for those on the ground. Only if the commission has the confidence of land use managers will it be able to promote effective voluntary action by them. That remains very much the primary thrust of the deer management framework and is the Government's and the commission's preferred option.

In Clause 1 the Deer Commission will also be given the specific general function of furthering the sustainable management of deer, alongside its existing general functions of furthering the conservation and control of deer. The Government's general policy on sustainable development has been clearly set out following the Rio Summit on Environment and Development in publications such as the UK Strategy on Sustainable Development published in early 1994 and the Government's recent Action Plan on Bio-Diversity. In Scotland, the Government are very much committed to promoting the sustainable development and management of our natural resources.

The extension of the general functions of the Deer Commission to cover this matter will enable the commission to seek to apply the key principles of sustainable management to deer management generally in Scotland. In essence, sustainable management implies that the natural resource should be managed so that it is used wisely and does not compromise the inheritance of the future. As far as deer are concerned, this will mean managing the resource in a way which enables the deer population to live successfully in balance with its habitats. That long-term objective would, if properly implemented, ensure that conflicts with other land uses are kept to a minimum and that, where possible, effective management action is planned well in advance, so that emergency action is either avoided altogether or kept to the absolute minimum.

The Red Deer Commission is already active in this regard in several ways. In conjunction with other public and private bodies with an interest in sustainable management, the commission is involved in the preparation of support models which are designed to assist managers to set appropriate population density levels in relation to particular habitats. The commission is also piloting the preparation of deer management plans which will be designed, as expertise develops, to reflect both local habitat needs and the requirements of deer managers. The Deer Commission will be seeking to demonstrate that the conservation, control and sustainable management of deer and their habitats in a manner which respects other land use considerations is the most effective, efficient and, in the long run, rewarding management system for deer managers.

The Deer Commission and private owners and occupiers will also be given by the Bill certain powers for controlling deer in order to protect the natural heritage. Most importantly, the Deer Commission will be given strengthened powers to promote voluntary control agreements in order to protect the natural habitats as well as agriculture and forestry. It will also be given new powers to protect against threats to public safety. Such voluntary control agreements were promoted widely by the commission in the 1960s, and have more recently been promoted in several parts of the East Grampians. They are implemented by local managers and backed up by the expertise and resources of the commission, and are designed to enable effective long-term action to be taken to solve problems of over-population in particular areas. These strengthened powers will be of considerable benefit to deer managers and others who wish to take co-ordinated action in future.

Your Lordships will also note that Clause 4 extends the existing powers of the commission to authorise the following and killing of marauding deer to cover serious damage to the natural heritage and dangers to public safety. This is very much an emergency provision to deal with marauding deer only and will not be appropriate for controlling deer established on land. Moreover, under Clause 5, in exceptional circumstances the commission would be able to promote compulsory control orders in respect of serious damage to the natural heritage, in the same way as it can now promote such measures for agriculture and forestry damage. The clause makes it clear, however, that such compulsory measures can only proceed if voluntary control agreements have been tried and failed and if there is no alternative measure. Moreover, such compulsory measures will only be applicable in cases of protection against serious damage; they will not be appropriate in cases of proposals to enhance the natural heritage; that is to say, when changes in existing land use are sought. Compulsory control orders will, as now, remain subject to confirmation by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

As now, the exercise of the commission's powers will be subject to its own discretion as to the appropriateness of proposed measures for particular situations. The Bill contains an important measure in Clause 1 which will place a balancing duty on the commission in reaching its decisions to take account of factors including the relationship between deer and their habitats, the needs of agriculture and forestry and the interests of owners and occupiers of land. That balancing duty will ensure that the commission gives full regard to the wider aspects of the problem at hand, as well as the specific deer issues that it has to consider, and that the merits of all relevant issues are taken into account. Such balancing duties are common to a number of public bodies in Scotland and are a very useful mechanism for ensuring that action is taken only after full consideration of all the relevant factors.

As I have already stated, the Bill also proposes that powers be granted to the commission to authorise action, or in certain circumstances to take action, in respect of threats posed by deer to public safety. Again, the best long-term approach to ensuring that deer do not disrupt or threaten communities, or facilities such as airports, will be effective planning of sustainable management which keeps deer numbers in balance with the available habitats. There is a need, however, to have provisions for use in exceptional circumstances to ensure that such very occasional threats as do occur are brought under control as quickly as possible. The inclusion of these provisions in Clauses 4 and 5 will give the commission the powers that it needs to act in this regard.

The Bill contains a number of other measures, similarly designed as regards a more controlled and effective system of deer management throughout Scotland, which also take account of the welfare of the deer. They include amendment to the general law on the rights of land managers to shoot and take deer. In Clause 7 of the Bill, a number of changes are proposed to bring that about. First, all night shooting will henceforth require authorisation by the commission. Night shooting can sometimes be necessary to protect crops and other forms of vegetation from deer damage but it raises significant animal welfare, poaching and public safety issues. The commission has already prepared a code of practice for night shooting and the extension of authorisation to replace the existing exemption for agricultural occupiers will ensure that animal welfare, law and order and public safety concerns are met.

The Bill also proposes enabling the commission to authorise shooting during the close seasons to prevent serious damage to unenclosed woodlands or the natural heritage, or in the interests of public safety. Such control is not allowed under the current Act and constitutes a significant constraint on deer management in a number of areas in Scotland.

We have also included in the Bill the commission's proposal that the moving of deer by vehicles for deer management purposes would be permitted if authorised by the commission. That is currently an offence under the 1959 Act. The deer management purposes that the commission has in mind are essential culling work and exclude any sporting activity. The commission has made it clear that they only see such authorisation being given in very exceptional circumstances, such as when there is a sudden, dramatic and unsustainable population explosion in a particular area and no other methods of control have been, or are likely to be, effective. In response to the public concern about this proposal, we have included in the Bill the stipulation that any such authorisation will be subject to a code of practice on the matter to be prepared by the commission. I should also like to emphasise that the Bill does not change the existing offence of shooting deer from an aircraft.

The Bill also contains, in Clause 6, a proposal to enable the Secretary of State to set by order close seasons for all species of deer. These close seasons, during which the killing of deer is normally prohibited, contribute to deer welfare, form part of the general framework of control of the killing of deer and also respect sporting traditions.

Currently, under the 1959 Act, the Secretary of State can set close seasons for all species except red deer, which are set on the face of the Bill. The Red Deer Commission's proposal will allow more flexibility to change season dates if that is required in future. We have no plans at present however to make any changes to close season dates and would want, as the Bill provides, to seek the commission's views on the matter and those of the wider public before proceeding to make any change.

Lastly, I should note that the Bill contains, in Schedule 1, a new definition of the types of agricultural land on which an occupier can take action to protect crops or stock. Your Lordships may be aware that the current definition in Section 33(3) of the 1959 Act is uncertain, in part because of a judgment some years ago by the sheriff at Dornoch. The new definition we are proposing is intended to allow action to be taken in respect of land on which the occupier has .made significant investment to improve its productivity, but to exclude such action on other land. I believe that the new definition will help to clarify the law on this matter and provide effective protection where it is needed.

As your Lordships may be aware, we have prepared a compliance cost assessment to accompany this Bill. This sets out in detail our general assumptions about the impact the Bill will have on private businesses. For the most part the Bill is aimed at promoting voluntary action by deer managers and will not impose any extra costs on them. Indeed, effectively planned deer management will bring about significant benefits to other land uses and deer managers themselves. Only in the very exceptional circumstances of compulsory control schemes to protect the natural heritage and/or public safety would there be extra costs involved. Those costs are not insignificant, but they would, at least in part, be offset by venison sales. In general terms the deer commission will seek to demonstrate to deer managers that effective action to manage deer in a sustainable long-term manner is very much in their own interests.

I recognise that the new Bill, if enacted, would not be as user-friendly as it might be, being an amendment Bill. I am therefore pleased to announce that we propose to introduce, when a legislative opportunity arises, a Bill to consolidate all deer legislation in Scotland in parallel with this Bill through the consolidation procedure. While that may not facilitate the job of your Lordships in considering this Bill in the short term, it will be of some considerable benefit to those affected by the law in the long term, and I hope that your Lordships will give it your support.

I trust that I have given a sufficient explanation of the content of the Bill and of the policies which underlie it. The Bill is substantially based on proposals prepared by the Red Deer Commission and following many years of consultation with affected interests. It represents a carefully considered, balanced approach. It seeks to build on the existing achievement of the commission, deer management groups and deer managers generally, and to give them the powers they need for the future. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that wild deer in Scotland continue to thrive as part of our natural heritage in successful co-existence with other fauna and flora and with other land uses. I am pleased to have the opportunity to promote this Bill, and I commend it to the House.

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

3.33 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full explanation of the Bill. I too look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, when he addresses the House. I find it difficult to address this debate because I received my briefings only this morning. I am therefore grateful to-the Minister for clearing up some of the problems, although I shall be raising certain points which will require either a reply from the Minister today or can be raised more fully in Committee.

My briefings were extremely helpful. They came from the WWF Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the British Deer Society and the Scottish RSPCA. The WWF made a clear statement in regard to the problems associated with deer. I am not by any means an expert on the subject. Looking at the Benches opposite, I realise that many people know a great deal about it; but it is not a subject that is raised very often on the streets of Partick!

I appreciate the points made, and the WWF put it succinctly when it said that the deer population is, too high for the interests of the sporting fraternity; higher population densities produce fewer shootable stags with lower body-weights and smaller antlers".

I am not sure that that is a good enough reason for the culling. A much more important reason is that the population is, too high for the interests of the environment; trampling and browsing deprives whole areas of priceless habitat (including natural forests) of a secure future; [it is] too high for the welfare of the deer themselves; they don't thrive when their population starts to exceed the carrying capacity of the land; in these circumstances, large numbers of deer can suffer a lingering death from starvation and exposure in bad winter weather".

I have seen that occur in certain parts of Scotland, particularly in the Lochaber area, when there has been insufficient grazing for the deer. It is a tragic sight.

I shall return to that point, but the RSPCA is concerned about the powers of the commission in relation to the control scheme set out in the Bill. The proposals for new Section 7(1)(a) refer simply to "damage" to woodland. In legislation of this kind that is far too loose a definition. We shall certainly suggest a better definition of "damage". What may be damaging to one landowner may not be to another. I can think of one or two Members of this House who would object to a child running on the land, never mind people hiking across it or walking around the edge. Therefore damage to woodland must be defined rather better than it is at present. It may perhaps be qualified by the word "serious", as is the case in new Section 7(5)(b).

In new Section 7(1)(b) there is a reference in lines 17 and 21 to the possible option of "exterminating" deer in . a locality if damage has been caused. That is even more drastic. The Bill gives the commission the power to exterminate deer without deciding whether the damage to the land is extreme or the extent of the damage. That point is supported by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as the RSPCA. Perhaps the Minister can respond in that regard today or again we can debate it more fully at Committee stage.

Another contentious point has been raised many times in conversation. Perhaps the Minister can give us some confirmation on this. He suggested that aircraft would not be allowed. The idea of driving deer by aircraft raises considerable anxieties. Apparently, somewhere in the Bill—though I have not yet found it—a "vehicle" is subsequently defined as including aircraft. I can imagine what would happen if the deerstalking fraternity came out with an aircraft, either fixed wing or helicopters and, with the television watching, the deer were stampeded across the hills of Scotland. It would cause real public anxiety and perhaps a great deal more. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether or not the definition of a "vehicle" for this purpose includes aircraft, either fixed wing or helicopters. That would be of considerable help.

The Minister dealt to some extent with the code of practice on night shooting. We would like further explanation of that. Will the -new code of practice relating to night shooting and the use of vehicles have any legal status? I am informed that at present there is no legal status for that. I do not think the Minister dealt with that point, but then he could not deal with every point in his speech.

The British Deer Society is very concerned about the appointment of commissioners by the Secretary of State. It wonders whether there will be a balance of interests and how that balance of interests will be reached.

I am learning as we go along. I have a little background knowledge of the subject but not a great deal. I hope that at the end of the debate, having listened to the distinguished group of people who are to speak, I will have a great deal more knowledge. I look forward to taking an active part at the Committee stage of the Bill. Everyone accepts that something needs to be done, but we are not convinced that what is proposed in the Bill is for the good of the deer only. We wonder how much is also for the good of the sporting interests rather than general environmental interests. I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.

3.41 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, before speaking I have to declare an interest as I am an owner of a deer forest in the western Highlands.

I should like to thank the Minister very much for the clear way in which he introduced the Bill. I broadly welcome its contents. I particularly welcome the fact that for the first time for 40 years, as the Minister said, we are being given the opportunity to look at the working of the 1959 Act and to assess how it measures up to the problem of the overpopulation of deer in some parts of the Highlands. It is not happening everywhere but only in some parts of the Highlands, particularly in Perthshire and the Angus Glen. The Bill includes for the first time all species of deer, not just red deer, which is of great importance, particularly for woodland management where roe deer and sika deer can do an enormous amount of damage and certainly can prevent natural regeneration of the forest.

Before referring to some of the details of the Bill I wish to make two points. First, control of the deer population is needed not only for the protection of agricultural land and the environmental heritage, but also for the welfare of the deer population itself. Lack of nutritious feeding grounds which results from overpopulation causes suffering to the animals and is a sign of bad husbandry of the land. The Red Deer Commission's proposals, on which there was consultation in 1994, use the term "welfare of the deer", which to me has a wider meaning than the term "sustainable management" used in the Bill. I would very much like to see the word "welfare" included in the Bill. The Minister himself used the words "welfare of deer" in his opening address.

Secondly, we must remember that not all over-grazing is caused by deer. Over-grazing by sheep over the centuries has also been responsible for damage to the natural heritage. That must be taken into account in order to tackle the problem on a co-ordinated basis and not put all the blame on the deer population of the Highlands.

To return to the details of the Bill, I welcome the new provision for the appointment of commissioners by the Secretary of State because it removes the very prescriptive nature of the appointments to the old Red Deer Commission. However, it is important that all commissioners, whatever their other expertise, should have knowledge and experience of deer management. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House how the Government see the composition of the new Deer Commission.

The introduction of voluntary schemes side-by-side with control schemes is welcome when they are based on damage having been caused or being likely to be caused to agriculture, forestry or woodland, with the new addition of damage to the natural heritage in both schemes. However, there is a difficulty in defining serious damage to the natural heritage. It is important to guard against the possible use of compulsory powers even when dealing with recalcitrant owners. Compulsory powers should not be used until every avenue for the introduction of a voluntary scheme has been explored. By far the majority of owners of deer forests have a personal interest in carrying out good husbandry of their herds and the compulsory powers should not be needed except on very rare occasions.

The new provisions in Clause 6 relating to the close season, making it subject to amendment by the Secretary of State, are also welcome as long as the provisions for consultation are adhered to before decisions are taken. Clause 7 deals with the authorisation by the commission given to any occupier of agricultural land or woodland to shoot any deer on any such land if they are satisfied that that is necessary and no other method of control can be found. Subsection (3) also gives the occupier the right to use any vehicle to drive deer in order to take or kill them for the purpose of good deer management. "Any vehicle" now includes the use of helicopters. That causes concern. For such action to be allowed very special authorisations should be necessary coupled with the prohibition of shooting from an aircraft. I realise that that is not allowed under the Bill.

Subsection (10) allows night shooting by any person, subject to authorisation by the commission. That will require very close co-operation with the police. All of us are fully aware that night shooting is what takes place when poachers go on our land. The commission cannot be made responsible for policing all these authorisations. That will have to be undertaken by the police. There will have to be close co-operation between the commission and the police in order to prevent a further increase in poaching.

Lastly, I should like to ask whether under both voluntary control agreements and control schemes there is a right to follow deer onto other people's land. Under a control scheme there seems to be some justification for such action but it is likely to cause trouble under voluntary control agreements. I hope that we can have clarification of the conditions under which deer can be followed across a neighbour's land.

I welcome the Bill and I look forward to the Committee stage when we will explore one or two amendments which we should like to see.

3.50 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I suppose that I have an interest to declare because, although I do not own a deer forest, my husband did own Mar Forest but has given it to a trust for our grandchildren. Naturally I do not want to see their inheritance damaged.

The Government's intention to update and improve the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 is welcome, but in some respects this Bill in its current version provides a shaky foundation on which to build. In the mistaken belief that it would be based on the Government's consultation document, and that heed would have been paid to the responses to that document by such bodies as the British Deer Society and the Association of Deer Management Groups, some of us pressed the Government to find time for it. We thought that the Bill would be fairly uncontroversial, but, having studied it, I am beginning to wonder.

If the desired improvements to the current deer Act are to be achieved successfully without seriously reducing the humane protection the original Act afforded to the deer themselves, a number of amendments will probably be required. If the Bill is to be successful, it must be widely accepted and supported by all interested parties, particularly those legally and morally responsible for proper deer management. In most cases that responsibility lies with the owner of the deer forest, but occasionally with a long-lease holder of the deer shooting rights.

In cases where agreement between the legal deer manager and tenant cannot be reached, the Deer Commission will have to adjudicate, lay down a reasonable course of action and perhaps help to implement it. To do that fairly, the new Deer Commission will have to exhibit a very high level of balanced judgment and common sense but, above all, considerable technical expertise and experience, if all parties are to have confidence that their rights, livelihoods and interests are being safeguarded. Wherever an agricultural or forestry tenant's interests are damaged by deer, the principle in the first instance should be for the legal deer manager to put the matter right in a humane and balanced way to the satisfaction of both parties. Where the public interest—that is to say, the natural heritage—is being damaged, it should initially be for Scottish Natural Heritage to seek an acceptable solution with the legal deer manager.

Turning to the Bill itself, under Clause 1(1) the Deer Commission is given the function of furthering "sustainable management" of deer. I am very grateful to the noble Earl for having provided a definition of what "sustainable management" is supposed to mean in this instance because we have had many Bills with "sustainable" this, that or the other over the past two years and often we have been very pushed to understand what I call this "fashionable catchphrase" means. Sometimes it seems to me to mean whatever the user wants it to mean at any given time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, was sad that the term "welfare" of deer did not appear in the duties of the commission. I too am sorry to see that it has been omitted. I am beginning to wonder why. I have dark thoughts as to why, which I shall mention later on. I presume that "safety of the public" comes under the heading of "control".

The proposals set out in Clause 1(2) and (3) give the Secretary of State carte blancheto appoint whomsoever he pleases. First, he does not have to appoint 12 members because that is only an upper limit. Secondly, he is under no obligation to keep a balance between the various interests named in subsection (3A). While we are on that subject, I would very much like to see the interests of local communities added to the interests which must be considered.

The Secretary of State merely "may" appoint any person who appears to him to have experience of one or more of those matters and sporting interests are not one of them. What is an "appropriate" person? Is it someone who does not have a criminal record or is it just someone whose political views coincide with his own, or what is it? It seems to me that that is a very subjective definition. Surely, no one should be appointed who does not have knowledge of deer management and surely the expertise in the commission should be evenly divided between the four interests named. The Secretary of State may ask such persons or organisations, as he thinks fit, for suggestions of "appropriate" persons, but he is under no obligation to do so. Even if he does, he is under no obligation to act on their advice; he merely has to consider their suggestions and then, as I read the Bill, he can do whatever he pleases.

There are Secretaries of State and Secretaries of State: there are good ones; there are less good ones and one day there might even be a downright awful one. We have to legislate for all kinds, and this kind of permissive phraseology rather worries me. If the Deer Commission is not seen by the various interests to be balanced and impartial, it will have difficulty in obtaining the consent of owners and managers to voluntary control schemes because any proposals it makes will be suspect.

The noble Earl has told us in his introduction that it is the Government's object that, as far as possible, control schemes should be voluntary. I believe that that is something which is really important and that, if it is not got right, the object in promoting voluntary control schemes may fail.

I am very glad, too, to see that it is proposed in Clause 2 that greater reliance should be placed on local panels to solve local problems, but it is essential that they too should be as competent and balanced as the commission should be. Perhaps I may suggest that membership of local deer management groups might serve as a basis for their composition.

I believe that Clause 4 gives many of us cause for concern. The word "marauding" suggests the presence of deer on enclosed land where they should not be, whether agricultural fields, forestry plantations or gardens. Gardens are not mentioned in the Bill, as far as I can see. They are not in the schedule and I wonder why. Perhaps it might be stretched to cover constituting a danger to public safety, as on roads or airport runways. Clause 4 states: where the Commission are satisfied—

(a) that, on any land, deer—

(i) are causing serious damage … whether directly or indirectly, to the natural heritage generally" …

and …

(b) that the killing of the deer is necessary to prevent further such damage or injury … they shall authorise in writing … any person … to follow and kill on any land mentioned in the authorisation such deer as appear to that person to be causing the damage or injury".

It seems to me that that means that a commission, heavily biased towards the fashionable objective of natural regeneration without any deer fencing at all, could arrange to massacre a large number of the deer in any area of open, unfenced land. Is that the Government's intention? As I read the Bill as it stands, that is what it makes possible. On top of that, in this clause there appears to be no right of appeal against any such action on the part of the commission.

I turn to Clause 5. The proposals regarding voluntary control schemes are warmly welcomed, but like, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, I very much question the wisdom of using the word "exterminate". I know that it is used in the 1959 Act and I believe that it has been used with sika deer in mind, but I believe that it should be removed. In the first place it is virtually impossible to exterminate any creature living in its natural habitat, if at all, without quite unacceptable cruelty. I believe that there will be an outcry from the animal lovers' lobby and from animal conservationists if that provision appears in the Act. In the second place, the phrase "reduce in number" surely covers what is required. The provisions do not state to what percentage the number has to be reduced. That is left completely open.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, that the phrase "serious damage" is too vague. I think that we need a more stringent definition of it. I also very much agree with the noble Baroness that deer are not the only animals responsible for the over-grazing in certain parts of Scotland. Like her, I should like to see something done about the sheep before the deer are reduced too far in number. Although I know that this is very much more difficult, I should also like something to be done about rabbits and hares because they too graze and must share some of the blame.

The proposals in Clause 6 to allow the close season dates to be fixed by order of the Secretary of State are welcome. However, I should like to see the word "shall" instead of "may" in subsection (2). For humane reasons, there must be a minimum fixed close season for all female deer. It is not acceptable to extend the season to the point where lactating hinds are shot, leaving the calves to starve; nor is it popular with the stalkers and ghillies to be obliged to gralloch a pregnant hind. Although I find that less unacceptable than the other, it is not you or me who has to do it.

Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, and, I believe, the noble Baroness, I have the strongest objection to Clause 7(3) since the word "vehicle" includes aircraft, hovercraft and boats. I do not know that a boat is so bad, but to drive deer with a helicopter into a pen or a corner to be shot later or to shoot them from a helicopter, as has been done in New Zealand, or to pursue them on the ground in a moving vehicle, possibly firing at them while doing so, is quite unacceptable. That is what I had in mind when I used the word "massacre" earlier. That is why I suspect that the welfare of deer was omitted from the commission's duties under Clause 1. Apart from anything else, I do not think that public opinion will tolerate it.

Again, in this clause, to refer to "any deer", "any land" and "any person" is to give far too wide an opportunity for abuse by the ill-intentioned. Incidentally, why should only the occupiers be given such draconian powers, without any compulsion to inform or consult the legal deer managers? Furthermore, why should they be allowed to sell or dispose of the carcasses?

Overall, this has the makings of a good Bill and it is still possible for it to become one, but I think that it requires a certain amount of amendment at a later stage.

4.3 p.m.

The Earl of Woolton

My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to speak today as a relative newcomer to the subject of deer management in Scotland, but now finding myself at the very centre of the issue as the owner of an estate in the Angus glens. I am also conscious that I am joining a distinguished list of speakers with a wealth of knowledge on the subject.

I should like immediately broadly to welcome the Bill and to thank my noble friend the Minister for finding time for the Bill in the Government's busy programme. Before I comment on the Bill itself I should like to make a few general observations on deer management, principally relating to red deer in the Highlands. The management of deer means different things to different people. To some, they are a nuisance and interfere with native woodland regeneration and heather moorland management; to others, they yield a significant economic return. Between those two extremes rests a whole host of other interested parties, with their own agendas and strongly held views. There is, I believe, a perception among many of those interested parties that the traditional methods of deer management have largely failed. It was as a result of that perceived failure that these amendments became necessary.

The increasing interest in the issue has now spread wider into the media and other sections of the general public. At the same time, the spotlight has been directed at all forms of traditional country life. Over the past 30 years two simultaneous changes seem to have occurred in the deer populations in certain parts of the Highlands. First, there has been a consistent increase in the deer population. In some areas it has been as high as a three-fold increase. Secondly and clearly related to the first, there has been a movement, particularly of red deer, away from their traditional ranges into. new habitats on the outer fringes. I suggest that one of those changes might have been manageable by itself over time, but the fact is that they appear to have happened together and over a relatively short timeframe.

In the south and east Grampians, for instance, the three-fold increase in the red deer population and their movement down to the heather moorland has occurred only over some 30 years. There has been an inevitable conflict created where significant numbers of red deer have moved into areas that were traditionally the preserve of grouse moors and sheep farms. There now exist extensive competitive demands on many parts of the Highlands between agriculture, forestry, sport, habitat management and tourism. All have a vital part to play in the economic and social future of the Highlands, but all cannot be accommodated in all areas at the same time. There now exist a number of pressure points throughout the Highlands where that conflict is at its sharpest and where the need to address the excessive number of deer is immediate.

I have three major concerns for the future. First, the management and interests of the deer will lose out to more powerful economic demands. As a result of being the poor relation, the future of traditional forms of deer control will become more and more difficult. Secondly, the red deer range will continue to shrink in size under the constant pressure from more and more people wanting access to the Highlands. Ultimately, red deer may become confined to selected areas behind the inevitable miles and miles of deer fencing. Thirdly, future deer management must become proactive and not just reactive. Too often in the past pressure points have arisen in certain localities and the existing legislation has offered little or no alternative to extermination—often of whole herds of deer. That will become increasingly unacceptable to the public and lead only to greater criticism of deer managers. Public scrutiny of this issue will only grow in the future.

I hope that I have not sounded too pessimistic because I believe that there now exists—perhaps for the first time—a real consensus among all interested parties. That has been demonstrated in many forums, as promoted by Scottish Natural Heritage and other bodies. The promotion of responsible and sustainable deer management policies must remain the highest priority for the future. I therefore welcome the Government's decision to retain the commission, renamed and with wider powers. That is an important step in recognising that Scotland's deer are unique and require a separate body to look after their interests.

I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister's comments on deer management groups. These have successfully brought together many parties which might otherwise have continued to operate in isolation. The opportunity to consider a local problem without the constraint of ownership boundaries has proved most worthwhile. As many of us know, there still exists an irrational suspicion of what is happening on the other side of the hill. Deer management groups represent the best forum for implementing deer management polices on the ground.

I should like to comment briefly on three clauses of the Bill. First, I welcome as a broad principle the extension of the commission's existing powers to cover serious damage to the natural heritage. The existing legislation has not proved sufficiently flexible to deal with serious damage to heather moorland. Large areas of the lower Angus glens, for instance, have been subjected to persistent deer pressure, particularly during the winter and early spring, such that heather regeneration is now impossible without fencing. That is to the detriment not just of grouse but of a much broader range of moorland flora and fauna.

Quite how the commission will respond to requests for assistance where serious damage to the natural heritage has been reported by someone other than the occupier of land may need to be given some further thought. I am sure also that what constitutes "serious damage" may be the subject of a great deal of debate.

Secondly, I welcome the amendments allowing close seasons to be fixed by the Secretary of State. That will provide a much needed degree of flexibility in dealing with local situations. It is an interesting idea that the Secretary of State might be able to set different close seasons for different parts of Scotland.

Thirdly, and finally, amendments to Section 7 of the Act dealing with control schemes are also broadly to be welcomed, while recognising that the voluntary principle must always be given priority where possible. These voluntary schemes, where permitted in limited circumstances under the current legislation, have already proved successful in dealing with a number of pressure points in the East Grampians.

In conclusion, all of us involved in deer management have a unique responsibility for the future wellbeing of Scotland's deer. We must not let this opportunity be lost to deliver a long-term and sustainable policy into the next century.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am glad to congratulate my noble friend Lord Woolton on his maiden speech, on behalf of the whole House as well as on my own behalf. It was a fluent and informed contribution to our debate and an excellent example of what a maiden speech should be. He follows distinguished forebears: his grandfather of course was the Cabinet Minster in World War II with heavy responsibilities for food supplies for the civilian population. It is felicitous for me to be speaking now because I had the pleasure of knowing his father and mother. His mother was a constituent of mine in northern Scotland when I was in another place. We look forward to hearing many more speeches from my noble friend, and we wish him well.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I support the principles in the Bill, and I am glad that a place was found for it in the current Session of Parliament. Legislation must keep pace with changing situations and provide suitable measures to meet them.

There is now a change of name for the commission—it is not just the Red Deer Commission—because.other deer are to be included in the legislation. Red and sika have interbred and there are now to be added fallow and roe. I welcome the latter because roe have become a more important element in Scotland than in the past. Stalking them is now more sought after as a sport, especially by foreigners. That is helpful to Scottish rural areas.

I declare an interest. I and my son own a modest estate in northern Scotland where there are many roe. It is arable land near the Moray Firth—not heather and granite—so it is not a habitat for red deer. I welcome the Bill because I have been concerned with previous legislation. I remember the passage of the principal Act of 1959 which was virtually the first in Parliament to deal with the control of red deer to protect farm land from damage from marauding deer. It also established the commission.

In the late 1960s, when I was in opposition in another place, I piloted through two Private Member's Bills on the subject, one being the Sale of Venison Act 1968. Noble Lords may also recall that in 1982 I took over the later stages of the Private Member's Bill (the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill) introduced by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, when he was appointed to a position in the Government while the Bill was passing through Parliament.

The problems in Scotland have been mainly with red deer. They have a valuable place in the ecology of the Highlands, inhabiting wild areas of hill and moor where crops and forestry trees cannot be grown. Unfortunately they do not always remain in the areas which are most suitable for them. When they multiply to numbers which cannot be sustained within their normal habitats, they starve, or invade farmland and other arable territory, causing damage.

The Bill adds to the previous legislation considerations of "damage to the natural heritage", and threats to public safety. There is general agreement that more powers are needed to deal with the situation. I understand that the Bill follows recommendations from the Red Deer Commission.

Arrangements for culling to reduce population growth have in the past meant the killing of hinds (the females), and that seems likely to continue and to be increased. I refer now to an unusual proposal which has been put forward by an organisation called Animal Concern. It is that a contraceptive be introduced in some way so that large numbers will not have to be killed by shooting. How it could be done, I do not know, and how to administer the pill to deer in the hills and to reach the approximate numbers required—not too many and not too few. It is an unusual suggestion and probably impracticable.

At present where overpopulation occurs, starving deer will come to eat forage put out for them by man in winter conditions. Perhaps an experiment could be undertaken by including a contraceptive substance in that forage. It could then only affect a small proportion. I shall be glad if the Government would comment at some stage—not necessarily today but perhaps at later stages of the Bill—but I shall not be surprised if the proposal is found to be too difficult to carry out.

It is important—my noble friend Lord Woolton also stated this—to consider humane ways of reducing the numbers. The British public are concerned—I am talking about the British public in cities and towns as well as those in the countryside—about the lives of animals, and the reasons for various actions should be explained where public interest and anxiety are evident. To some members of the public, culling seems to be an authorised mass slaughter of females.

The Bill would provide also wider conditions for shooting deer, including at night and out of season in certain circumstances and within permitted arrangements. I agree that there should be scope for doing that when deer are in the wrong place, and causing damage, provided that control and supervision are guaranteed.

The Bill provides also for driving and herding deer to improve the management of them, presumably steering them to more suitable areas at the time. I understand that is not to be permitted as part of a day's stalking or in connection with sporting activities of any kind. Another issue that has already been raised today, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, is whether "driving" includes the use of helicopters and light aircraft. I shall be interested to hear the Government's reply on that.

There is a new condition about threats to public safety. My noble friend in his introduction spoke of deer straying on to an airfield. I should be grateful for more examples of that, if not today perhaps at later stages. In my experience, the most likely and serious danger is of hitting a large red deer stag crossing a road, in particular at night. I have had to take quick avoiding action in darkness on Highland roads. A collision with an animal of that size could be serious. Is that what the Government have in mind? It is difficult to prevent unless wholesale herding is carried out to more remote areas. Am I right in assuming that, under the terms of the Bill, it would not be possible to do much to make roads safer?

I welcome my noble friend's announcement about consolidation and the fact that before long there will be a consolidation Act which will be far easier for everyone to understand. Having been involved in the various amending Acts since 1959, I am glad to hear that. In general, I support the principles of the Bill.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I too wish to give a general welcome to the Bill and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lindsay on his lucid and careful explanation of it. I believe that this is the first time for many years that Scottish deer legislation has been the subject of a government Bill, which to a large extent raises its profile. The previous Bills appear to have been Private Member's Bills—albeit hand-out Bills—although my noble friend Lord Forbes believes that I am wrong about that. No doubt he will be able to explain the matter further.

When I read the Bill I was reminded of many of the complex and competing issues, some of which could be described fairly as pitfalls, involved in legislating on deer. Some of those manifested themselves in the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1982, on which I cut my legislative teeth in your Lordships' House. Towards the end of its passage, and under the circumstances prevailing, I was able to hand it on to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. I remember saying to myself, and probably to others, that after that experience I would never again get involved with animals, let alone deer, in this House. But here we are again. I have broken my resolution more than once, probably in support of Bills brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

Those who were involved in the passage of the 1982 Bill—and, sadly, many of them are no longer with us—also urged me and my noble friend Lord Mansfield, who was then on the Front Bench, to do all that we could to get the Bill right. The chances of further legislation on deer in Scotland emerging before a further 20 years or so, they said, was pretty unlikely. As regards this subject, 13 years seems like yesterday and it is to the credit of the Scottish Office and my noble friend and the Red Deer Commission that they conducted a consultation exercise in 1991–92 to see how the 1959 Act could be amended to reflect the contemporary scene and the problems which my noble friend Lord Lindsay has identified. I thank the Scottish Office and the Red Deer Commission for keeping me informed of how their considerations were developing.

I have little doubt that some of the broader points of principle relating to the management of deer, about which we heard in 1982 with so many knowledgeable Members of your Lordships' House playing a part in our considerations, will re-emerge this time. It is, of course, the case that the overall deer population, especially of red deer and sika, has markedly increased, as many of your Lordships have said. Mild winters, inadequate culling in some areas and other factors are reasons for that. In many places the population should be reduced. This Bill seeks to address the population issue. It is right that it should, as my noble friend Lord Woolton made clear in his admirably knowledgeable maiden speech. My concern, however, lies in the fact that the Bill now before us introduces a very considerable tilt in the balance between conservation and control, away from the former and towards the latter. If this Bill is to command confidence among all those different competing interests which are involved, as surely it must if it is to be a success—I mean legitimate interests but not easily compatible or reconcilable ones—some tilting of the balance back towards the former is necessary. I suspect that my noble friend on the Front Bench will have detected that theme already.

It would be a mistake to go into too much detail now. We shall have plenty of time to do so. Indeed, if the 1982 Bill was anything to go by we shall certainly need that time to explore the detail. However, in order to illustrate some of my concerns now it is necessary to look at the Bill in a little detail. Clause 1 deals with the functions of the Deer Commission for Scotland. I support the change of name, although I seem to be eating the words that I uttered on Second Reading of the 1982 Bill. One of my concerns about Clause 1 lies with the major addition to a substantially reworded Section 1 of the 1959 Act in referring to the "sustainable management" of deer. That has been touched on by others, most notably by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I am not clear about what it means. Does it mean that the management is sustainable—that the management of deer on any land is sustainable—or does it refer to the sustainable management of a habitat? Perhaps my noble friend will explain the matter further because it is unclear to me.

That, in a sense, goes to the heart of the Bill because the great change since 1982—let alone since 1989—has been the passage of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act and the powers it contains and how the Deer (Scotland) Act must inevitably fit in with it. During the passage of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act, many of us in this House forecast something of a conflict if its interests were to ride roughshod, or look as though they were likely to do so, over the interests of deer management, deer welfare and the interests of landowners. When I see that, the Commission, in exercising their functions, [shall] take such account…of…the size and density of the deer population and its impact on the natural heritage",

I am hardly surprised. I have no real difficulty with the concept of that, being balanced as it is with the needs of agriculture and forestry and the interests of the owners and occupiers of land, with all that that means for sporting interests and the welfare of those employed in that regard and the economy that flows from it. Where I part company with the Bill as it is now drafted is in the new formation of the commission to undertake those functions and to take account of the features that the Bill names. The Bill states that: the Secretary of State may appoint [to the commission] any person who appears to him—

(a) to have knowledge or experience of one or more of the following matters—

  1. (i) deer management;
  2. (ii) agriculture (including crofting);
  3. (iii) forestry and woodland management; and
  4. (iv) the natural heritage".
But why, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, asked, does the list exclude anything about owners or occupiers or sporting interests in deer?

I suggest that it would be perfectly possible to fit all four categories with people who have knowledge or experience—although I must say that I think that it would be a considerable improvement to have both qualities—without them having any real understanding of the practicalities of ownership, the sporting interests that goes with that, and other features best known to those who deal with and regularly live and operate on the land concerned.

Therefore, it seems to me that we go straight into a conflict between Section (1A) and (3A). I hope that my noble friend will address carefully what appears to be a manifest anomaly when he winds up the debate. If the Bill cannot be made clearer in that respect, there is a real risk that confidence in it, the commission and its membership could be severely impaired because it is a major departure from the representational elements contained in the 1959 Act.

The same principle should apply to deer panels referred to in Clause 2. I am all in favour of increasing the size of deer panels. Deer management groups and deer panels have, in their separate ways, both been a great success over the years. But there seems little logic in so loosely drafting the requirements for membership and I believe that that should broadly follow the earlier clause.

I turn now to the powers of the commission which are dealt with in Clause 3, which amends Section 4 of the substantive Act. I have very real worries about the power that that would confer on the commission to conduct, any experiment, trial or demonstration, relating to the conservation, control or sustainable management of deer, or to any other aspect of the Commission's functions".

What sort of experiments is the commission considering and for what purpose? Why is it necessary to widen to such an extent the existing Clause 4 powers? I hope that my noble friend will be able to give reassurance.

If ever there was a topic which generated heat, light and not a little steam during the 1982 Bill, it was the subject of marauding deer. I shall always remember the amusing anecdotes of the late Lord Massereene and Ferrard on that subject. But this Bill seems to introduce a real anomaly. If deer maraud, they are going somewhere where they should not be or where people do not want them to be. The dictionary definition is that to "maraud" is to make a plundering raid; to go about pilfering. Those are well-known qualities of deer in search of food and they do that in ways which often disadvantage those who own that food. That is exactly what deer do. But how on earth can they maraud on any land, even if qualified by the wording of paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii)?

Again, that seems to be inequitably tilting the balance towards protecting the natural heritage in a way which, frankly, drives a coach and horses through the carefully qualified conditions in Section 6 of the 1959 Act.

I hope that my noble friend can see that the effect of that could be understood to be, in effect, a back-door route to some type of unapproved control scheme. It would be a control scheme in all but name and without the safeguards that control schemes enjoy. Unless the Bill is reworded to meet those concerns, to that extent I find it very unpalatable.

There are other issues surrounding public safety, the driving of deer by aircraft, close seasons and perhaps the need for refining the drafting of the Bill at which we shall look in greater detail in Committee. But here we are dealing with the principles and it is those principles which need to be addressed. The new proposals seem to be a significant shift which could impact seriously on the welfare of deer, the interests of landowners and economic viability.

Of course the natural heritage must be protected. My noble friend Lord Woolton made that point admirably and I do not dissent from that one bit. None of us disputes that. But the powers which this Bill seems to introduce could discriminate overwhelmingly in favour of that one aspect. The Bill, as welcome as it is, can be improved. I wish it well and I look forward to its later stages.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Forbes

My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Woolton on his splendid maiden speech made with great eloquence and with considerable knowledge of deer in Scotland.

In 1958, some 37 years ago, I had the privilege to introduce and steer through your Lordships' House the Deer (Scotland) Bill which became an Act in 1959. It was not a Private Member's Bill but a government Bill.

Although the legislation has been twice amended, it is now necessary to bring it completely up-to-date. Because of that, I welcome this Bill. Indeed, there have been many changes over the years. One change which has certainly intrigued me is that the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 cost ls.3d., whereas the Bill introduced today by the Minister costs£3.80, which is quite a difference.

In 1958, the main problem was poaching and cruelty to the deer. There were gangs of poachers going about, mainly in the north-west of the Highlands, who were acting like commandos. They had all sorts of weapons, including automatic weapons. They had rubber boats so that they could approach the deer from the sea. They operated largely at night, and human lives were at risk because stalkers went out to try to get to grips with the poachers and at times they were fired on.

Another aspect was cruelty. For every stag or hind that was shot, there were almost certainly two or three others which were wounded, and possibly worse still was when a hind with a small calf was shot or killed and the calf was just left to die because the calf was too small to fend for itself. It was the poaching and the cruelty which sparked off the need for the 1959 Bill.

It was then decided that it should be a comprehensive Bill dealing with deer control and conservation. Today, in spite of the present legislation, there has been a marked increase in the number of deer. If my memory serves me correctly, in 1959 it was reckoned that there were 150,000 red deer in Scotland. Today that figure has more than doubled. One of the reasons for the increase has been the remarkably mild winters that we have had during the past decade.

Too high a density of deer can cause considerable damage. Heather is eaten out, grass comes in; and in some cases, even bracken comes in. Then, if there is not enough food for the deer, they go marauding on arable land. Furthermore, too many deer lead to soil erosion. Too many, feet going down one track lead to erosion.

I mentioned heather. Heather, as well as forming part of the feed for deer, is also essential for grouse. I believe it is unfortunate that grouse are declining while deer are on the increase as grouse are more important to the Scottish economy than deer. It is grouse that attract more people, and their money, to the moors from various parts of the world. There are many reasons for the decline of grouse. It is a complex subject. Over-grazing by deer is just one of the many factors.

Too many deer also prevent natural regeneration of trees, including the magnificent Caledonian pine trees which once made the landscape of Scotland so beautiful. The big problem is how to reduce deer numbers and keep them at a sustainable level. Culling is not easy. The season is short and often the hind culling season is cut short by atrocious weather. Skilled stalkers are needed to do it. The price of venison also comes into it. If the price of venison is high, it encourages owners and managers of deer forests to cull. If the price is low, it is a disincentive for extra culling. Only a few deer are culled by nature. A hard winter may account for some of the old and the weak. In Africa it is the predators which reduce the gazelles and other antelopes, but not in Scotland—as my noble friend the Minister pointed out—where there are no predators. Culling must be done by man.

It is much easier to determine how many deer should be culled than to say how it should be done—that is the real problem. In that respect I believe that the Bill will be helpful. For instance, Clause 3 deals with research and experiments. I believe that research will be necessary to determine the best way to reduce numbers. Clause 5 deals with consultation on close seasons. Altering close seasons can certainly be looked at, especially as regards the culling of hinds.

I wish to say a few words about Clause 7 which deals, among other matters, with restrictions on shooting at night. In my view shooting at night simply must be kept to a minimum. Some people may not know whether the shooting is being carried out by authorised people or by poachers. Furthermore, it is dangerous. People go onto the moors when it is dark, especially when there is good moonlight. I might recommend to your Lordships that going out onto a moor in the moonlight can be revealing if one is interested in wildlife. Apart from deer, one sees all kinds of other animals such as foxes and badgers looking for worms and berries off the rowan trees. One may see otters near little streams, and even the wild cat.

It is of paramount importance that there is no cruelty during culling. I believe there is a lesson to be learnt here from some of the seal culling that has taken place. Some of the seal culling was carried out by people with little experience of the job. They used various weapons to shoot the seals and they even clubbed pups to death. Quite rightly in my view this aroused public indignation. As a result of that people are against any culling of seals for any reason, even to protect our valuable salmon stocks. It is essential that we do not get into the same situation as regards deer culling. Deer culling must at all times be humane, otherwise there will be public outcry and it will be stopped for all times. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister for introducing this Bill, and I wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest as the largely absentee owner of a west Highland sporting estate. Like most other such owners I am absentee because the estate is not exactly self-financing and to support it I have to spend most of my time away from home. Unlike many such places, however, it is indeed my home. I spent all of my school holidays on the place and I have run it without a factor for the past 25 years. Therefore I think I can claim to have had what may be unusually close contact with the land in question, and with its problems, for more than 40 years.

It is this experience which gives me the temerity to try to set this Bill against a slightly wider context than has been attempted by my noble friend on the Front Bench this afternoon. To do this I would remind your Lordships briefly of some of the salient points in the broad history of the Scottish Highlands as they affect this Bill.

Your Lordships will recall that in Roman times the Highlands were so densely afforested—and, it must be admitted, so savagely populated—that the mighty Roman Empire had to build a wall to mark its boundary. Your Lordships will know too, that that forest was then diminished by man for hundreds of years, so that the trees had mostly gone by the time of the infamous Highland Clearances some 200 years ago. That is when people with their subsistence farming and their soil enriching cattle left most of the land, to be replaced by huge numbers of sheep which were soon joined by large herds of deer. Your Lordships will appreciate too that acid rain started to fall soon after the clearances, the effects of which we are at last trying to monitor and control.

So it was that in 1954 Sir Frank Fraser Darling so wisely wrote: The bald unpalatable fact is emphasised that the Highlands and Islands are largely a devastated terrain; any policy which ignores this fact cannot hope to achieve rehabilitation".

Alas, we have indeed ignored that unpalatable fact and so the degradation of the soil and the terrain have continued for another 40 years. The question before us this evening is whether this Bill as drafted will do anything to reverse that process with any degree of harmony. I fear that it will not.

The brief history that I have mentioned has led to a number of understandable tensions, some of which lie in the background to this Bill, and appear to have at least partly inspired it. Broadly speaking, these controversies stem from what a landowner or occupier may want to do on his land, and what others think should happen on it. Let me refer to three areas where there has been, or is, disagreement of this kind: sites of special scientific interest, public access, and grazing pressure. Your Lordships will recall that the Bill which set up Scottish Natural Heritage in 1991 ran into difficulty in your Lordships' House principally over a landowner's ability to avoid the imposition by SNH of an SSSI with which he did not agree on scientific grounds. Your Lordships insisted on a new scientific committee under the auspices of SNH to which landholders could appeal if they did not agree with a particular designation. At the time this was highly unpopular with many of our conservation bodies, which feared that there would be so many appeals to the new committee that SNH would not be able to function. The wicked landlords in your Lordships' House were accused of deliberately frustrating the work of SNH.

Well, my Lords, the good news is that the very existence of the new committee appears to have removed any excess of zeal by SNH to designate unnecessary SSSIs. There have only been two appeals to it, both of which were adjudicated in favour of SNH. The better news is that a new era of harmony has broken out in the Highlands between SNH and landholders. Much of the credit for this must go to SNH's chairman, Sir Magnus Magnusson, and his team, and to SNH's local boards, which are starting to collaborate fruitfully with landowners all over Scotland.

Nowhere perhaps is this new harmony and collaboration more beneficial than in resolving the very delicate problem of public access. The Association of Deer Management Groups, speaking for virtually the whole landmass of the Highlands, is close to agreeing a new concordat, now in its eighth draft, with all the access and amenity interests. This agreement should meet the aspirations of all those who rightly enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of our hills, while at the same time it should safeguard the employment of those who earn their living from our wild deer. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the vital economic importance of the latter, especially in our remotest areas.

And so I come to grazing pressure, which is really what this Bill is about. The Bill, as drafted, is not about the welfare and harmonious existence of our largest wild mammals. It is a blueprint for their destruction. Like the original SNH Bill, it is a sop to the wilder, more aggressive elements of our conservation movement, and it could do enormous damage to the Highlands if enacted in anything like its present form.

To justify that allegation I must ask your Lordships to appreciate that those wilder elements wish to see the numbers of deer in the Highlands reduced to a level where the ancient Caledonian Forest might regenerate, without deer fencing (which it would not, but that is another matter). When I finish I shall press my noble friend to tell us exactly where the Government stand on this issue.

Those who wish this to happen would be quite happy to see a 95 per cent, cull and the obliteration of deer forests as we know them, which is, of course, the object of their exercise. I fear they are reliving and attempting to revenge the Highland Clearances, to nobody's apparent benefit and certainly to the detriment of our deer and natural heritage. I should add that it was this same lobby which wanted to abolish the Red Deer Commission in 1991 and give the powers envisaged in this Bill to the fledgling SNH.

Of course, I do not suppose that many of us would object to the Red Deer Commission, as presently composed, having these powers, because we trust it, as we trust SNH. Through our Deer Management Groups we are already collaborating to reduce deer numbers where most people agree that they are excessive. But Scotland appears to be an uncertain place politically at the moment, and we must, however reluctantly, consider what a Secretary of State sympathetic to the wilder elements could do with this Bill. Armed with Clause 1 he could appoint a commission consisting entirely of such people, and under Clause 4 that commission could send out the helicopters to drive deer into large corrals for their subsequent massacre. That is, in fact, the only efficient way to get rid of deer on a large scale permanently. He could do that without a public inquiry and without compensation.

Before leaving grazing pressure, I must point out that it is not entirely honest to attempt to deal with overgrazing in the Highlands without being prepared to talk about sheep and to see what might be done to reduce their numbers. It is true that a deer is reckoned to eat two-and-a-half times what is eaten by a sheep, but there are about 200,000 deer in the Highlands and at least 2 million sheep, which means that the sheep are eating four times as much as the deer. Furthermore, the unhealthy numbers of sheep are positively encouraged by the subsidies which are paid on the ewes. This means that people keep more ewes than their ground can sustain.

I therefore have a suggestion for the Government, if they really want to reduce grazing pressure in the Highlands sensibly. Subsidies should be taken away from the ewes, and should be granted instead on the lambs. The present level of any farm subsidy should be paid only on the second lamb, or twin. This would have the effect of dramatically reducing today's unhealthy stocking rates, which make good lambing percentages impossible. At the same, time this system would safeguard the incomes of hill farmers. I hope that the Government will give the idea some thought.

To return to the Bill itself, I welcome the intention to allow the Secretary of State to vary the close seasons when deer may not be shot. If it were legally possible to shoot hinds earlier in the year—say in September—I suspect that much of the problem of any overgrazing by deer would soon go away naturally. Estates could earn a useful income by letting their hind shooting in the longer, warmer days, and a much larger cull could be complete by the new year, with higher income from the better quality meat. However, it cannot be right that the Secretary of State should be free not to set any close seasons at all, as envisaged in Clause 6, thus relegating deer to the category of vermin. I join with other noble Lords in saying that that clause must be amended.

I am disappointed to see that the Bill does not contain a statutory requirement for carcass tagging. I understand that a Red Deer Commission working party has concluded that this would be both desirable and feasible. It should be centrally administered, perhaps by the commission, and could be financed by the industry, at a cost of about 30p per carcass. It seems to me essential to any deer management policy to know not only how many deer we have, but also how many we are shooting. Only then can we gauge the effect of a shooting policy on any piece of land. Good progress is being made towards accurate counting as part of the developing collaboration between the Red Deer Commission and deer management groups, which I have mentioned, but we are still a bit in the dark about how many deer are being shot and exactly by whom. So I hope that the Government will be prepared to discuss this further.

Perhaps I may end by pressing my noble friend on the Front Bench to make clear exactly what is meant by Clause 1 of the Bill. What exactly does the "sustainable management" of deer mean? And when we come to the duties of the commission, I note that these are: to take such account as may be appropriate in the circumstances".

I am advised that this is a very weak form of duty. I do not know what paragraph (a) of subsection (1A) means. That reads: the size and density of the deer population and its impact on the natural heritage".

Who decides what that impact is? Who decides what the condition of the natural heritage should be? Does this include reducing deer to a level where the ancient forest can regenerate without fencing? It is most important for us to know this fact. I look forward to my noble friend's answer in the hope that I am being extremely over-pessimistic about the whole matter.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Burton

My Lords, first, I should like to add my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Woolton. I hope that we shall hear him many times in the future.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, say that he had difficulty getting hold of a copy of the Bill. I thought that perhaps I was alone in that, but I am delighted to hear that so eminent a person on the Front Bench opposite should have had the same problem. That caused me some difficulty because I only received a copy of the Bill at 11 o'clock this morning.

There has obviously been anxiety that the deer herd has been increasing markedly over a number of years. However, apart from the East Grampians and the Angus glens, much of that increase has come from the colonisation of new areas. Perhaps the legislation has been influenced by the situation in the Grampians and the Angus glens, whereas in other areas the situation has been very different.

It was estimated that some 50,000 of the increase in deer, from 200,000 to 300,000, was in new woodlands, many of which were at the thicket stage. After all, our deer are basically woodland animals and their adaptation to the open hill was only brought about by the scarcity of woodland in the Highlands, as my noble friend Lord Pearson mentioned. Now our red deer have no peace on most of our open hills. They are harried day after day by hill walkers. It is not surprising, therefore, that they now find shelter in our new woods.

The Minister referred to the reduction in the deer range by the extension of the woodlands. However, can we not take a leaf out of the book of our continental neighbours whose woods are used as a habitat for deer which are considered a major asset there? We could learn much from the Continent on how to manage our woodland deer.

Many of our traditional deer forests have been almost completely depleted of deer. There is a great lack of knowledge in Scotland on the management of our woodland deer. There will be no proper control as long as the deer are harried around day and night. The spotlight makes them more frightened than anything. Perhaps I may give a practical example. Last winter, with rather limited time, I managed to get about 55 animals—hinds and calves—on about 2,000 acres. That was done by nipping them out here and there during the hours of daylight. That 55 was about 25 per cent. from a total population of between 180 and 200; and, furthermore, there was some degree of selection. Night shooting is indiscriminate. I believe that the less night shooting there is, the better.

Having stated those generalisations, and I hope in some way dispelling the idea that the whole of the Highlands is grossly overpopulated with deer, I must say that, regrettably, I find little that I like in the Bill. However, the provision in Clause 1(1)(a) is obviously sensible. It merely changes the name of the commission. After that there appears to be little, if anything, for the welfare of deer. The proposals will undoubtedly bring about many abuses of the legislation, and increase the mismanagement of deer. The proposals seem to make unnecessary changes which are not warranted. If the machine is not broken, why mend it?

However, the manner in which the legislation is operated will depend greatly on the commission. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, refer to this point; it is possibly the biggest worry in the proposals before us today. I refer to the composition of the commission. The current commission has on the whole worked well for 36 years. It has worked well because there was a balance among the members of the commission between those who saw the deer as an asset to be managed—our largest wild mammal and, among other things, a tourist attraction—and those who believed that the only good deer was a dead one. I know that from time to time certain foresters, and one or two others on the commission, were not keen to see any deer. However, that is by the way. There was a balance; that was the important thing.

The new proposals could completely disrupt that balance. It is a dangerous situation. There is nothing in the Act to state that the Secretary of State cannot appoint a commission nominated completely by Scottish Natural Heritage. I find that a terrifying thought.

I turn now to the functions of that body. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and other noble Lords referred to sustainable management. Surely the existing Bill already provides for that in referring to conservation and control. Surely proper conservation and proper control is sustainable management. I suggest that if the word "sustainable" is wanted it should be inserted in new Section 1A, which refers to the duties of the commission. Paragraph d could refer to the management of a healthy, sustainable population of deer.

Several noble Lords asked what criteria are to be taken as regards the impact on the natural heritage. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us. I do not believe that the wording is satisfactory. Who will judge that impact? Will the deer commission consider the advice of the Scottish Natural Heritage to be paramount in judging how the natural heritage should be protected?

What is "serious" damage? The deer legislation states that any animal in the middle of a stubble field could do potentially serious damage. The interpretation of "serious" in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is very different. It is difficult to obtain a licence to kill anything, however serious the damage it creates. But one deer is all that is necessary in the deer legislation. To have the same word interpreted so widely in two pieces of legislation is not satisfactory. The legislation refers to serious damage. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, say that there was damage in only one or two places. At least the reference should he to serious damage if not to something more prominent. Perhaps there should be a definition of "serious" in the Bill.

No reference is made in the Bill that steps to protect one's crops and woods are necessary before one can start shooting deer at night or out of season. Proper steps should be taken to try to protect crops or woods. The commission could decide whether it is reasonable to have a proper fence. I know of places where crops are planted to lure the deer into fenced fields. The gates are deliberately left open, then shut at night, and the deer on the crops are slaughtered. That is not good management and not what the Bill is intended to provide for.

I do not believe that where there is improper fencing the forestry interests should be permitted to go battering away at the deer night after night with spotlights. Those people are not keen to put up fencing; it is expensive. If they can kill the deer simply by driving around with a spotlight, and obtain some value for the venison, that is what they will do. That is what they are doing and it should not be permitted.

The close season has been referred to. I know that there are large herds of stags on the hill ground during the winter in Angus and South Perthshire. It may be difficult for the commission to give permission at present for anything to be done about those large herds of deer because it would be out of season. However, I do not see that that is good reason for changing the season. There is no reason why the commission should not be given powers in such an instance. The situation does not occur in many places. The commission could easily be given powers to permit what it considers to be reasonable culling.

I do not like the idea of a Secretary of State being given power to change the close season, which has stood for a long time. I do not see what is wrong with it. It will be quite wrong to permit the shooting of hinds earlier than, say, the middle of October. They are still heavy with milk and unless one shoots the calf first one cannot guarantee that one will kill the calf as well as the hind. The calf may well run away with the main herd and be extremely difficult to pick out. Alternatively, if it is in woodland, it can quickly disappear. That makes the culling of hinds quite difficult; in the woods in particular The close season could be extended, possibly in February. However, the Deer Commission likes that time for counting. Also the hill hinds are by then in bad condition. If it is necessary to have a longer season for killing the hinds in any specific area, there is no reason why we should not give the commission the power to arrange that, but not to change the seasons generally.

I turn to safety on public roads, which has already been mentioned, and what is involved in protecting the public. In places like Drumochter enormous numbers of deer will frequently be found in hard weather down near the road. However, they get wise to the roads. The main problem of large animals being hit at night was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. Often they come down to turnip fields, which are not that big. I have found that we can keep them out with electric fencing.

There is one further point. I do not know whether the Minister noted that owners are not allowed to shoot deer at night unless they happen also to be occupiers. It would often be more appropriate for the owner to kill deer on a tenanted farm than for the tenant. I have had trouble with that. I do not know what has been killed. The countryside has been littered with wounded animals and orphaned calves. I do not believe that that is to be encouraged. I am not keen on night shooting anyway, but I believe that owners should be allowed to do it rather than occupiers, or both.

We shall no doubt have an interesting Committee stage, when we shall return to other points. I hope that I have given enough food for thought today, but I welcome my noble friend's offer of consolidation of deer legislation. That is most important. I have been asking for the Scottish salmon legislation also to be consolidated and perhaps he will lend his weight to that as well.

5.11 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, this has been an interesting, constructive and stimulating debate. Possibly one of the highlights was the maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Woolton who, as we anticipated, spoke with great experience and knowledge on the subject of deer management. He has had many years of having to deal with the problems which deer pose and the House must be grateful that he shared his knowledge with us tonight. I also admire him because some of us rushed into our maiden speeches, producing what could only have tasted like young wine. However, my noble friend ensured a vintage performance by allowing a maturing process before delivering the product. His was a useful contribution.

My noble friend Lord Woolton stressed two essential truisms on the subject which will have helped us. His first point was that the red deer range in Scotland is both reducing and moving. It is the pressure of a reducing and moving red deer range that is causing some of the friction and stresses with which we hope the new Bill will deal.

The other excellent point which my noble friend made is that deer management must at all times be proactive rather than reactive. I hope to return to that subject when we discuss sustainable deer management, which confused some noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Woolton pointed out that he was conscious of the daunting list of speakers with distinguished qualities. So am I, with former Secretaries of State and two Ministers of State, both involved in deer legislation. We have heard from a large number of noble Lords with great expertise who know their wild deer and the issues which surround them intimately. I also am conscious of the weight of accumulated knowledge that we have heard in the debate.

Perhaps I may say at the outset that with this Bill we have time now and while we go through the Committee and Report stages to discuss all the issues which have arisen tonight. We have time to discuss all the suggestions which have been made by those who reckon, on their experience, that there are different ways of approaching some parts of clauses. I shall welcome the opportunities, both within and outside the House to discuss many of the points which have been made.

I am therefore grateful that noble Lords taking part in the debate prepared and brought forward their experience and expertise. I am glad that most welcomed the generality of the Bill. Even my noble friend Lord Burton welcomed the first subsection, with the name change, even if not the rest of it. However, given the time we have available, I hope that we shall be able to alter the Bill as noble Lords seek who feel uneasy about it.

The issues which deer and deer management raise are many and varied. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to sheep and rabbits and their marauding qualities. It is a serious issue and there are other forms of browsing and damage caused by animals other than the wild red deer in Scotland. However, it is only the wild deer and the problems that they create that are the concern of the Deer Commission. Therefore, that commission will not be able to authorise any of the actions that the Bill will provide for, unless it is satisfied that the problem being tackled is created by wild deer.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy raised the interesting issue of contraceptives, be it pellets or by employing the hunger of deer in winter and some method of marinating forage in a contraceptive substance before the forage is put out for consumption. The important point that that raises is connected with the provisions we are putting in Clause 3. We want the Deer Commission to be able to indulge in research, experiments, demonstrations and so on. Therefore, if there are new methods and options for deer management which are being worked on by scientists or land managers, we shall welcome the fact that the Deer Commission can take an interest and if necessary promote the new methods.

I know that contraceptive pellets are being considered in seal management and my noble friend Lord Forbes raised that awkward issue. I was speaking to some Canadians recently who told me that they are getting closer to delivering pellets to seals and therefore there may be a way of delivering contraceptive pellets to deer. However, a huge amount is not yet known. For example, how long will the pellet be active and would one change the social patterns of a herd once hind stock are no longer properly coming into season? There are probably more questions as yet unanswered than there are answers.

I am not sure for what reason but my noble friend Lord Glenarthur was worried about Clause 3 allowing the Deer Commission to take part in experiments, research and demonstration projects. Whether we are talking about new management techniques based on science or on land management, we hope that the Deer Commission will take on that research.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to intervene, I certainly do not disapprove; nor do I believe that there is no need to carry out some experiments. However, it seemed to me that the phrase in Clause 3: any experiment, trial or demonstration",

without it being qualified in some way, seems extraordinarily wide. That is the point on which I need reassurance.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, it would possibly be best if we discussed the matter before the next stage. We do not wish to fetter the commission's discretion to pursue research which could have a useful application to deer management. My noble friend Lord Forbes stressed the importance of research, and we hope that it could become an important part of the commission's work.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy also raised the public safety issue, which is a new feature of this Bill compared to the 1959 Act. In my opening statement I mentioned airports, but we do not anticipate roads being within the purview of the commission. We do not believe that the many roads that cross the red deer range in Scotland, many of which are unfenced, could possibly be seen by the commission as part of its responsibility. Therefore the Tomintoul road, for instance, will not be policed by deer commission marksmen going about their duty. That is beyond the remit of the commission. Quite apart from wild deer straying on to airports, we are taking a fairly long-term look at deer management through this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Wootton said, if the deer range is moving and reducing, deer may be driven on to school playgrounds and perhaps into other parts of communities where, rather than just being a nuisance, they could be construed as a danger. We want the commission to have the ability to respond to those sorts of dangers.

My noble friend Lord Woolton used the phrase, "the spotlight on country life that is currently being applied by society at large". That is an important aspect. It raises the welfare issue, to which a number of noble Lords alluded in different respects. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, reported the response of the SSPCA, and the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, also raised welfare, as did the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Forbes.

The important point is that the conservation and sustainable management of deer cannot in any way incorporate practices that do not take account of welfare. If there is abuse or cruelty to deer, that would not qualify under the terms of the Bill as being part of their sustainable management or indeed anything to do with conservation. The issue of the close season has possibly split contributors to the debate. Some, such as my noble friends Lord Woolton and Lord Forbes, have welcomed it whereas my noble friend Lord Burton is worried. I can say to my noble friend Lord Burton that close seasons will continue to represent a valuable protection for deer, especially for hinds and calves during the calving season and indeed later when they are still heavy with milk. They will also continue to form a part of the general framework of the controlling and taking of deer. But there may well a need, given the very large upward trend in deer numbers in Scotland, at some stage and in some cases, to adjust the seasons for reasons of sound management. That would not be done unless there had been consultation with all who had an interest. It would also require an order of the Secretary of State. Therefore there would be a procedure allowing plenty of opportunity for those who were uneasy about it to make their case. Welfare is central to the Bill. The word itself may not be on the face of the Bill, but it is written through the Bill in a wide number of respects.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, hit on the most successful part of the commission's record to date and on the key to the commission's future success when she said that it must have the effective support and confidence of all those involved. Indeed, as was acknowledged at the start of the debate, if land managers do not have confidence in the commission and in the management systems proposed by the commission, or indeed in the potential of deer management groups, then the deer problem in Scotland will not be solved. In government we recognise that the commission must engender confidence. We must achieve the era of harmony to which my noble friend Lord Pearson referred when speaking of his old friends in SNH. I cannot be nearly so pessimistic as my noble friends Lord Burton or Lord Pearson about the provisions of the Bill and the way in which the deer commission will interrelate with other land users and land managers in the future. There is, as I hope my noble friend Lord Pearson appreciates, a very explicit balancing duty written into the Bill in Clause 1. The interests of owners and occupiers are a balancing duty which has not to date existed in the operation of the Red Deer Commission. Therefore, in the future, all the commission's decisions will have to take account of the wider implications of reactions set out by the balancing duty.

The new provision for the appointment of commissioners is also intended to seek that balance. A number of noble Lords are uneasy about the new provisions in this area. We are conscious that there has been a relatively inflexible situation developing whereby the choice of potential members of the commission is restricted to the nominees of certain organisations. There are many more organisations now with a genuine and legitimate interest in deer management than there were in 1959. We ate conscious that good and contributing as members of the commission have been to date, there have been moments when there were people better able to serve on the commission but who could not be appointed because of the constricting procedures that exist at present. We want to maintain a balance and make sure that landowners and people whose primary interest is the sporting side of deer management, as well as those involved in agriculture, forestry or natural heritage, can all have their interests properly represented on the commission. The Secretary of State will seek a balanced commission that reflects expertise, experience and knowledge across those four broad areas.

I am conscious that many noble Lords have today expressed different depths of misgiving and have also contributed one or two suggestions about the way in which Clause 1 allows the Secretary of State to appoint the new commission. I promise that we shall read those remarks with great care inHansardto see whether there are any adjustments we should like to make or consultations that we should like to carry out with any noble Lords here.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur was worried about the way in which local panels could be appointed under Clause 2. The clause is designed to reflect the widely varying circumstances that might pertain to any particular situation. We are not sure where a panel might be needed. No local panels are in existence at the moment. We are not quite sure why a local panel might have to be set up and what problem it might address. Therefore, we do not want to prescribe to the commission exactly what sort of panel it has to be until the nature of the problem is evident. The strong likelihood is of course that the composition of the panel will be very similar to the composition of deer management groups but perhaps incorporating an interest to account for a particular circumstance.

In relation to Clause 4, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, and two or three other noble Lords asked about either the right of appeal or the definitions involved. Clause 4 on marauding deer is primarily geared to an emergency situation. That is the difference between Clause 4 and the control agreements that are needed to solve long-term problems. Clause 4 is meant to be a device to be applied reasonably quickly. The commission must take all steps to inform all those whose land might be involved. Also, the authorisations in Clause 4 that might be given by the commission are time limited. What Clause 4 cannot do is create a longer-term situation that is entirely against the wishes of a landowner or land occupier in that area.

The definitions of "serious damage" are important. I make the same point as I made a moment ago to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur; namely, to prescribe "serious damage" or what the word serious might mean without knowing the area of Scotland, the sort of habitat one addresses and the sort of land uses that might also be part of the equation, is difficult. We fully expect that the composition of the commission, with its balance of expertise and knowledge, and the ability of the commission to draw on outside expertise—it might be SNH or another body of expertise—should provide a definition of "serious damage" that will pertain to the circumstances that it seeks to address. To try to define "serious damage" for a country as diverse in its landscape, topography and land use as is Scotland would be unnecessarily constraining and could be very counterproductive.

I should point out that the control schemes which are the compulsory arrangements are only able to be instituted where serious damage is not only occurring but continuing to occur. That is an important definition which may be of some comfort to those who fear the ability of a compulsory arrangement to interfere with normal land management techniques.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, asked about following deer onto other land during control agreements. The assumption that I make would be that they are injured, which necessitates, as it were, an act which would otherwise be a transgression on to someone else's private property presumably without any agreement. In normal terms, one would expect the Deer Commission to seek the agreement of all landowners likely to be affected by voluntary control agreements. Under Section 15 of the 1959 Act, the commission has the power to enter onto any land in pursuance of a control scheme but has to give at least 14 days' notice. In emergency circumstances, which may be what the noble Baroness has in mind, such as those involved in following injured deer, we should expect the stalker upon the ground to use his or her discretion, including, where possible, consulting the neighbouring land owner/occupier to ensure that a deer which is in distress is put out of its misery as soon as possible.

We shall look again at the word "exterminate", which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, quite rightly drew to my attention. It may be a word which perhaps in earlier legislation caused less concern than it does today. There are other phrases, such as that suggested by the noble Lady of reducing numbers. We shall want to consider that matter very carefully.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, my noble friend Lord Forbes and other noble Lords brought up the new provisions and removal of the exemptions on night shooting. We have thought about the issue very carefully. We are convinced that what we are doing is the right way to go forward in this difficult area. As I said, it involves animal welfare, public safety and law and order issues. The need for all those who want to night shoot to obtain authorisation from the commission should solve many of the problems that have been developing.

The definition of "vehicles" has caused some concern among noble Lords and the fact that it could include helicopters has provoked comment. I stress that once again the Red Deer Commission quite rightly assumed that it would not have another opportunity for primary legislation in this century and that we should be into the new millennium before being able to write a new Bill. I feel that it was taking a long-term view of some of the deer management problems which may occur in the next decade or two.

There is a realisation in the red deer range in Scotland that, over very large areas of terrain, there may be a very fast build up of deer numbers and that the only effective management technique may be somehow to move those deer to a point where they can be better managed. It has nothing to do with sporting purposes, as I said. There is no way that from a helicopter, for instance, one could seek to discharge a weapon at a deer. It would be controlled by a code of practice and would only be in very exceptional circumstances. The commission itself would have to be convinced that something which is bound to arouse public interest is justified by the management problem that is posed.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could give us some reassurance on that point. He referred to the code of practice in relation to vehicles, including aircraft. Can he say whether or not that code of practice will be available during the passage of the Bill?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I feel that it might be best if I were to write to my noble friend on that point. I hope that the timetable on this Bill will allow for as much useful information as possible to come forward. If it can be made available to noble Lords, I should certainly be very happy that that should be the case.

I must not detain noble Lords much longer. There are issues which I have not had time to address in depth. I am conscious that my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch brought up the case for carcass tagging. That is a subject which needs more than two or three sentences. It involves the provision of information to the Deer Commission, there are some hygiene aspects and there are some poaching dimensions to the whole subject of carcass tagging. I do not want to fail to do the matter justice. Perhaps I may seek a meeting with my noble friend so that we can look at the wisdom of addressing that subject further.

I trust that the answers I have had time to give will go some way toward explaining the rationale behind the Bill. Following this debate, I shall make available some Notes on Clauses which will give further clarification on the details of the Bill. I look forward to discussing the Bill at all stages with noble Lords, especially given the weight of considerable expertise in this House on such matters. We want to create a revised legislative framework which will give the Deer Commission and deer managers the powers that they need for the new century to ensure that wild deer in Scotland can continue to live successfully as an integral part of our natural and cultural heritage, in harmony with other land uses and with their habitat.

I refer my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, to that sentence when they readHansardas our definition of what sustainable management of deer involves. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and commend the Bill to the House.

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