§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)
I have nothing to add to the reply made to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) on 26th November last about grey seals.
Common seals are not protected and my Department has no power to intervene in regard to those that were shot by private individuals in the Wash area. I will, however, look into the matter further and see whether there is anything that needs be done.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm or deny the report that it has been the practice, and was intended to be the immediate practice here, to send 434 people with humane killers, or alleged humane killers, to slaughter young female three-week-old seals up to a certain number which were being driven or moving across the shore to the sea? If that is the practice, will the Minister reconsider it? If the problem is overpopulation, will he consider the provision of a birth control pill for male Protestant seals? As an alternative, would he care to discuss the whole matter with his noble Friend the Great Seal?
§ Mr. Peart
I hope that my hon. Friend, who I see is wearing leather shoes, will realise the implications of his question. This has been a difficult operation. I understand how it was carried on previously, but I will carefully watch it. The Nature Conservancy, which advises on wild life population, supports this action.
§ Mr. Wall
While accepting the need for controlling the seal population, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider doing this as quickly and as humanely as possible? With regard to the common seal, is the Minister aware that there have been reports of wounded seals being washed up in the Wash area? Will he consider whether there is a case for prosecution for unnecessary cruelty to these animals?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to make sure that effective research is continued into this matter, as the scientific evidence is very conflicting on the whole issue?
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the Minister aware that this is a practice which causes concern in Scotland as well as in England? Will he ensure that the number of seals to be killed is based on better evidence than has so far been produced? The evidence that has so far been produced is largely from stake netters on salmon rivers, and is to some extent suspect. But, in so far as it has to be done, is the Minister satisfied that there is proper 435 inspection so that the numbers killed are observed, and will he ensure, as far as possible, that when it must be done local people who can make use of the seal skins are employed on this job?