HL Deb 10 June 1969 vol 302 cc581-616

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships may remember that about a year ago you considered a Bill with a similar title, with similar objectives, but rather longer, and that at the end of the debate on the Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested that I might consult further with interested parties to see whether I could bring up a differently drafted Bill. Those consultations have taken place, and I am grateful to those who have advised me—naturalists, scientists, fishermen, conservation societies and, last but not least, Government Departments. The Bill before your Lordships to-day is the result.

Perhaps I should remind your Lordships of the reasons which led me, and a number of other people, to feel that our existing legislation, the Grey Seals Protection Act 1932 is insufficient. First, there are two species of seals in British waters: the grey seal and the common seal. The two species are about equally numerous; they are both engaging animals, which attract the affection of naturalists and others who watch them, and both are interesting animals whose habits and ecology have been much studied by naturalists, amateur and professional, over the past thirty years or so. As a result, we can now contemplate legislation of a type and to an extent that would have been quite impossible when the 1932 Act was passed, because we did not at that time have the knowledge at our finger tips.

Both the grey seal and the common seal are fish eaters, and as such come into competition with commercial fishermen, not so much because of the number of fish they destroy as because of the damage they do to nets, both fixed nets for salmon and driftnets for herring and the like, and to the fish in those nets, rendering them, in many cases, unmarketable. There are a number of noble Lords from Scotland who have put down their names to speak this evening and who know much more about the salmon fisheries, but in my own part of the world the damage to the inshore fisheries can be considerable. In those fisheries, as you haul in the net with the fish caught in it by the gills you bring it inboard, give it a good shake and the fish fall on to the deck. A seal seizing a fish in the net under water, pulling and tugging, can shake it in exactly the same way, shaking out everything, so that the unfortunate fisherman hauls in an empty net. If that happens occasionally it is a normal occupational hazard and supportable. But if seals become too numerous it becomes quite insupportable, and the unfortunate fishermen have the greatest difficulty in earning their livelihood.

It is also the case that both species of seal have always been exploited as one of our natural resources for their oil, their meat and, latterly, more especially for their skins. In Scotland at all times seals have been hunted by people living on the coast, formerly for subsistence but latterly more for the commercial results. For many years seal hunters concentrated on the grey seals which breed in colonies, and the young of which cannot swim until they are three weeks or a month old. They are therefore very much more vulnerable than the common seals, the females of which pup on a rock or sand-bank in low water, and the two drift off together at high tide.

This concentration by professional seal hunters on grey seals resulted in their becoming relatively uncommon by the turn of this century, and the Grey Seals Protection Acts were introduced to protect them during their breeding season when they were most vulnerable, although power was given to the Minister to issue licences to kill them at that time if he thought it necessary. As a result of that protection the numbers of grey seals have increased considerably. I suppose that the most famous colony is on the Fame Islands, where the numbers have increased from some 300, 400 or 500 seals, of all ages, in the early 1930s, when the Act was first passed, until to-day, when there are about 5,000 seals on the Islands. There has been a similar large increase in the other large colony of grey seals around our coast, on North Rhona and in Orkney the increase has been such, and the damage done to fisheries has been such, that for the past few years the Secretary of State has authorised an annual cull of some 800 seals. At the same time the unprotected common seal, the coat of which is valuable when a pup, has been subjected to intense killing by commercial sealers, to such an extent that the number of pups born in Shetland has decreased by about 75 per cent, and the take in the Wash has decreased by about 50 per cent. And one hears continual stories of bodies being washed ashore up and down the coast.

Therefore we are faced with two facts: that the grey seal, protected, has in some places become so common as to cause serious damage to fisheries, while the common seal, unprotected and over-exploited, is in some places in danger of becoming rare. Therefore there are a number of apparently conflicting interests which this Bill attempts to reconcile. There are, first, the interests of the naturalist, the scientist and the nature lover, all of whom want to see seals and watch them with as little disturbance as possible. Then there is the commercial sealer, who wants a large population of seals with a large annual surplus which he can cull for his own profit. There is the commercial fisherman who wants to see the population of seals reduced to such a level that the damage to his fish and his gear is minimal; and there are, lastly, a number in every category who feel that if seals have to be killed they should be killed as quickly and as humanely as possible.

If your Lordships will turn to the Bill you will see that Clause 1 deals with this last point. It forbids the use of poison. Strychnine is used to poison salmon which in Scotland (it is not done in England) are put into the nets as bait, and causes an agonising death to any creature which takes it. Scotland has recently abolished the gin-trap, one of the most inhumane engines man has ever devised, thus following England, and I hope that Scotland will also follow England in abolishing this inhumane method of killing animals. Secondly, Clause 1 lays down the minimum-sized firearm that may be used. The ballistics there, if I may be technical for a moment, are those of the 220 Hornet high-velocity rifle, which is more than adequate to kill an animal if it is shot in the head—and practically every seal killed is shot in the head.

Clause 2 lays down close seasons. For the grey seals, which pup in the autumn and early winter, there is the same close season as is in the existing Act, and for common seals, which pup at a different time, the appropriate season is prescribed. Clause 3 gives the Minister power to give complete protection to either or both species if he thinks it necessary and where he thinks it necessary. Clause 9 defines the reasons for which the Minister may grant licences, as he can to-day, to take or kill seals during the close season, and that clause in fact defines the modern concept of conservation, as opposed to the old-fashioned one of protection, which it is the object of this Bill to introduce.

I referred just now to the annual cull in Orkney which has been authorised by the Secretary of State for the past three years or so. That cull has remained more or less constant, and the population also seems to remain more or less constant, because the Secretary of State and his advisers seem to have found the maximum sustainable annual yield from the population of seals in Orkney which can be kept up year after year while keeping the population at the same level. If the population increases and more damage is done to fisheries, he can increase the cull; if he finds the population decreasing he can decrease the cull and bring it back to the maximum level possible. And here, of course, the Minister is following, on behalf of the nation, exactly the same policy as the grazier follows with animals on a farm, or the owner of a deer forest on his hill; that is to say, he is keeping the maximum breeding population that he can without doing damage to his neighbours, and culling and selling the annual surplus in order to keep the population at the same level.

Clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7 deal with penalties, and with the apprehension of offenders and the like. The clauses are, I think, common form for this sort of Bill and do not call for comment. Clause 8 is important as exempting from penalty the person who takes a seal in order to try to look after it and then release it, or who kills an animal so seriously injured that it has to be put out of its misery. More particularly, the clause authorises the killing by a fisherman of a seal found near his nets, a provision which is intended to cover the existing practice of those in charge of fixed nets of shooting seals or, rather more often, I understand, shooting at seals which attempt to take salmon from their nets—a purely defensive measure which can have little or no effect on the seal population, and which none of your Lordships, I think, would wish to discourage. A suitable weapon of course should be used, and that is taken care of by Clause 1.

The remaining two clauses deal with the relationships between the Minister and the Natural Environment Research Council, the one advising the other, and the other, in certain conditions, having overriding powers over his adviser. My Lords, we in this country have a special responsibility for seals, quite apart from the one of common humanity, because we have around our coasts about 75 per cent. of the whole world population of grey seals. And while we have, quite rightly, protected them for the past fifty years or so, we have been finding that protection alone, in the old-fashioned sense, is not enough and that we have now to go into management. In short, what one hopes this Bill will secure is that we have around our coasts for the enjoyment of all of us the highest possible population of seals that it is possible to have without causing damage to fisheries. This means that the seal population must remain stable since if it increases damage will be done. The surplus, therefore, must be culled as one of our natural resources. To achieve all that we should like would, I must confess, be possible only in the best of all possible worlds. That, I am afraid, is unattainable, but at least we can try, and I feel that we ought to try. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, just over a year ago we had a very full and valuable debate when the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, moved the Second Reading of his Protection of Seals Bill. To my considerable regret, I could not myself be present for that debate, but I have studied the OFFICIAL REPORT and I am well aware of the strong views held on this subject. The fact that nine noble Lords have signified their intention to speak in this debate is further indication of the interest that your Lordships' House has in this subject.

In the previous debate, my noble friend Lord Shackleton explained why the Government could not support that Bill in its existing form, but he promised that we would give the general issues farther thought and be willing to help the noble Earl, if we could, to produce another and more acceptable Bill. As he has said, the noble Earl took us up on that offer, and for our part we have much appreciated the open-minded and co-operative way in which he has considered such advice as the Government have to offer. Thanks to this, we have before us to-day a Bill which, from the Government's point of view at least, is a great improvement on the earlier one.

As your Lordships will recall, the earlier Bill was constructed on the principle that the common seal and the grey seal should be given comprehensive statutory protection and that no seal should be taken or killed except under licence. That would have inflated the administrative aspect; it would have made Ministers and their Departments largely responsible for the wise treatment of seals, and it would have greatly extended the range of activities enforceable at law. At first sight, of course, a central licensing system may seem a better and more flexible safeguard for seals than leaving the relationships, as it were, between men and seals in certain circumstances more arbitrarily defined, as they are in the Bill. But we have to remember that these relationships sometimes, indeed often, involve protecting interests other than the seals themselves. I had a vagrant thought in my mind when the noble Earl said a moment ago that we want the maximum population of seals, consistent with other things, for our enjoyment; I would submit also for the enjoyment of the seals themselves, and their interests are at least as great as ours in this matter.

There is no doubt that both species of seal are responsible for considerable damage to commercial fisheries, by the destruction of a considerable quantity (usually assessed at something like 100,000 tons of fish a year) and a wide variety of fish—white fish, herring and salmon; by the damaging of nets and gear; and by the spread of parasitic worms of which seals are the definitive host.

The fishermen are not the only group who believe that there sometimes appear to be too many seals. Conservationists, too, have a concern in seeing that populations of seals do not become so large as to create a threat to their own continued existence or to the ecology of other species. Conservationists, of course, also have a strong interest in protecting species whose numbers are depressed, though in the case of seals there appears to be no danger to the continued survival in British waters of either specie.

The issues then, in the Government's view, amount to this. We want to be able to act in good time to preserve seals—our largest wild mammals—if ever their survival seems endangered. We want to protect seals against inhumanity either from cruel methods of destruction or from needless destruction during the close season. We want to avoid increasing the difficulties of fishermen through the unrestricted increase in the number of seals. We want to ensure that the conservationists have proper opportunity for selective culling of seal populations in the interests of rational management. I do not deny that these objectives could have been secured to some extent by the Bill which the noble Earl introduced last year. I believe, however, that that Bill did not strike the right balance between the various interests, and perhaps, just as importantly, did not manifestly appear to do so. Where the present Bill seems much superior, if I may say so, is in breaking up the comprehensive, but to some extent uncomprehensible, principle of protection into specific and selective safeguards: specified protection means, for example, protection during the close seasons, protection in scheduled areas. The new Bill says what it means, and it leaves—this is fortunate—less to be guessed at in the minds of Ministers. The noble Earl has made clear—and I do not doubt him—that the net effect of this change in the basic framework of the Bill will not involve any significant loss in day to day protection for our seal populations, and no loss whatever when circumstances require that protection should be absolute.

Apart from the fact that the Bill makes no provision for access to land—about which I shall have something to say in a moment—its provisions are generally in line with what the Government would think appropriate. The noble Earl has explained the provisions of the Bill so carefully that I need make only a few comments. Clause 1 defines prohibited methods of taking, injuring or killing seals, and the Secretary of State is empowered, by Order, to alter the descriptions of the weapons specified. This will stop the use of shot-guns and certain other firearms and ammunition that are more likely to maim than to kill. Some of your Lordships may feel that this clause does not go far enough in restricting other methods of killing seals; but the trouble is that there is no unanimity of view at present about what are the most, or least, desirable methods of humane killing or taking of either species.

Clause 8 provides general exceptions for mercy killing and taking, and for fishermen acting in protection of their nets and tackle, and I think perhaps we should consider at a later stage of the Bill providing a similar exception for action taken by fishermen to protect their catches. Under Clause 9(1) the Secretary of State is empowered to license the taking or killing of seals (in a close season, or in a protected area which has been scheduled under Clause 3, or by prohibited methods) for purposes of education, science or for a zoological collection; to prevent damage to fisheries, to reduce a population surplus of seals for management purposes; or for a population surplus to be used as a resource. Clause 9(3) provides that, except where the purpose is to prevent damage to fisheries, the Secretary of State must consult the Natural Environment Research Council before granting any licence; and the Council, of which the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale, is a member, has power to veto the grant of a licence to kill seals in a nature reserve or a site of Special Scientific Interest.

Clause 10 requires the Natural Environment Research Council to provide scientific advice on matters related to the management of seal populations. At present there is little evidence to suggest that there are more than one or two areas in respect of which it might be necessary to make orders prohibiting the destruction of seals. I am speaking of areas and not general conditions. As regards licensing the destruction of seals in the close season, I think I ought to say that both the Department of Education and Science and the Fisheries Departments consider that effective culling, particularly of grey seals, is possible only during the close season and culling will therefore in the main have to be done under licence. It is likely, however, that when culling is necessary for management purposes there will also be a need to cull for fisheries protection and it should be possible to co-ordinate such culls.

I turn to the point, indeed the problem, of access to seals for such culls. Even with the present limited protection it has been difficult to arrange for necessary culling because of the reluctance of certain landowners to agree to culls of seals on their land when this would be fully justified on scientific grounds. This measure, which affords certain additional protection for seals and underlines the need for rational management of seal stocks, would seem to be incomplete without some provision to overcome difficulties of that kind and allow seals to be counted and observed for research purposes, or destroyed for management purposes or protection of fisheries.


Hear, hear!


I so often find myself in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and I am glad that he agrees with me again on this occasion. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has indicated his awareness of the problem, and we, too, are considering how it might be resolved.

I must strike a cautionary note about enforcement. This is largely a Scottish problem, for of the 35,000 grey seals in the British Isles, some 30,000 are in Scottish waters; and the majority of the 18,000 common seals are there, too. Enforcement of the Grey Seals Protection Act has always been a problem, particularly in the more remote areas where grey seals are chiefly found. But this Bill will not make the matter any easier. Elsewhere, I need hardly stress that the police would have little time or facilities for the enforcement of criminal legislation with respect to seals.

I think that this is a distinct advance and a useful Bill, which I shall look forward to considering with your Lordships in Committee, when no doubt we shall have some more interesting discussions and perhaps, by consensus and by consent, make further improvements. Meanwhile, may I conclude by congratulating the noble Earl on producing a Bill which continues to steer a middle course between the conflicting interests of which we are all aware, and which I am sure will go a long way in helping to put the conservation, management and control of seals on a sound scientific basis.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, join with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, upon bringing forward this amended Bill. Seals are attractive animals. To all of us, and myself in particular, since I read Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Tales and the story of the white seal, they have always had an attraction. As we all know, they are contented and happy animals, possessing, I believe, the five senses in greater proportion than most animals. Seals, especially the common seal, can be tamed if they are not molested too much, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fishermen were even known to play flutes to draw them out because they were attracted by music. I was interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, discussing the situation in the Orkneys, because I believe that in the early nineteenth century when the church bells on Hoy used to ring it was quite usual to see schools of seals appearing in the bay.

The question of the culling of seals for the protection of the fishing industry, as well as for the protection of seals themselves, leads to one or two interesting points. The main point is that, as I understand it, there is no scientific certainty that this is necessary because the scientific knowledge we have at the moment is very limited. I am thinking in particular now of the Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare Report on this matter. Just taking the question of the Orkneys, the mover of this Bill has informed us that in each of the last three years the Secretary of State has ordered that 800 seals should be culled because of the damage they do, and he informed us that this was considered to be about the right number for keeping the population level. However, UFAW (if I may use the abbreviation), appear to differ in this respect. In fact, they appear to think that there was no reason to fear any increase in numbers on conservation grounds, for in the Orkneys there is no salmon fishing industry to speak of. Admittedly, there is a white fish industry.

In the Orkneys there is also a lobster industry, and the information that UFAW have is that the fishermen in the Orkneys strongly assert that the seals eat the squid which in their turn live off lobsters. I am told that the best lobster catches are often made where many seals are present. So UFAW say in their pamphlet that the plea to cull seals in order to protect fishing interests in the Orkneys is rather bogus, and that neither scientifically nor economically has that plea been justified. They go on to say: Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the Orkney visit"— which was made by themselves with the Government inspectors— was witnessing the failure of the official Government observers to get ashore to supervise the sealers' activities. I merely mention this point to show that there is nothing cut and dried with certainty in these matters. There is a direct conflict of scientific evidence from this body with what the Secretary of State has been advised.

Having said that, as both noble Lords have said it is obviously fair to appreciate that seals do a lot of harm to the fishing industry, and therefore powers to cull obviously have to be in the hands of the Secretary of State. In many cases I would go further than the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I think that if you were to get a surplus of seals in one place they could harm their own chances of survival, because obviously there would not be the same amount to eat and there would also be fouling of the grounds. I would say that although in the past we have had many salmon marked in the rivers in Scotland, this is now rather rarer because the river bailiffs have been successful in keeping down excessive numbers.

The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, is not here, but I suppose I had better say that I am the proprietor of a small stretch of river in Scotland where salmon come and where I have rights, but I am not trying to make out a case for salmon rather than for seals; I am fairly neutral. The various terms of damage done I find hard to understand. The Fisheries Marine Research Department Laboratory of the Scottish Home Department had a gentleman called Dr. Bennett who estimated the value of damage done to food at £100,000 and net damage at £50,000. The Scottish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, we were told, estimated the annual damage at more like £67,000. Of course, no doubt there is a lot of other damage which is not known about. But this is not a very large amount considering the amount of salmon and other fish which exist in British waters, and considering the amount taken out of the Atlantic. One has to keep one's sense of proportion.

Now to some details of this Bill. Although I am not a ballistics expert, I wonder whether a bullet weighing not less than 45 grains is really heavy enough for the adult seal. I think it is problematical and debatable, and I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that since 1965 the Canadian Government have seen fit to have certain laws passed. I need not remind your Lordships that it is around Canada where the greatest seal population—admittedly of a different variety, the harp—exists. Nevertheless, they have a very much bigger population than we have, and they have found it necessary to insist on soft-nosed bullets which are capable of expansion in the seals and therefore more certain of causing death, and they have banned by Statute all steel-jacketed ammunition because they found that this was more likely to wound. As I understand it, there is nothing in this Bill to stop people using steel-jacketed ammunition provided that it is of this weight. But, as I say, the Canadian Government found it necessary specifically to insist that soft-nosed bullets should be used. I merely mention this as being worth looking into, because the experience of others is always useful.

Under Clause 9 the Secretary of State has power to specify how any culling or killing shall be done. And he might recommend that on some island where there was (shall we say?) danger of ricochets the culling of cubs should be done by club. I would point out that in Canada they have specified and laid down by law that the clubs used must be of a certain length and certain weight. It is worth mentioning here that Mr. Tom Hughes, who is general manager of the Ontario Humane Society, actually found that in certain cases this method was the most humane. But if this clubbing were ever to be found suitable (I quite agree it is repulsive to think of a man having to do the work because obviously it is not a pleasant job) and if it were to be thought that that was the right way to do it, because of the fear of ricochets, or as being the best way for cubs, it might be right to put down a minimum weight and length of club.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me for interrupting, I hope it will never fall to my lot to introduce a regulation providing for clubbing in this way. Actually, dealing with animals as a Minister is the most dangerous—literally dangerous—occupation you can possibly have; and the method suggested by the noble Lord is, I think, quite abhorrent.


My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Lord say that. I personally regard it as abhorrent, but it has been found in certain cases that from the point of view of the seals themselves this has not necessarily been the unkindest way especially with the young ones. However, I leave that point. I mention it merely as being a point to be considered.

Under the same Clause 9 I am still not quite clear whether the Secretary of State has been given power to override owners in ordering culling. We had the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, thirteen months ago as to whether for instance the National Trust could be forced, against their will, to have culling in the Fame Islands. Personally I accept that, if necessity is known and proved, this power should be in the hands of the Secretary of State, because we all know that public bodies are capable of being got at by members of the public who have emotional feelings, and who are able to influence, even though good grounds do not exist.

I have no more to say, my Lords. This is a useful and helpful Bill which must appeal to all lovers of Nature, and it also gives adequate safeguards to the fishing industry. I again congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, on bringing it forward, and would ask the Government to try to ensure that the information on which the Secretary of State acts is given on as many occasions as possible, in order to allay the doubts of the conflicting interests.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should perhaps first admit that such first-hand knowledge as I have of seals derives almost entirely from the Antarctic, apart from occasionally seeing seals at Blakeney Point and on holidays in Scotland. For two and a half years in the Antarctic, Weddell seals and, more particularly, crabeater seals provided the main ingredient of our fresh food supplies. Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty Act all the southern species of seals, South of Latitude 60 degrees South, now have a real prospect of sensible conservation.

It is useful to recall that the Antarctic crabeater seal population is of the order of 5 million to 10 million, of Weddell seals 500,000, and of leopard seals 150,000. In the Northern Hemisphere the heavily exploited population of harp seals is also still to be measured in millions. By contrast, this Bill is concerned with two seal species which exist in Great Britain in smaller numbers, but which become important because of their proximity to centres of human population and are thus particularly vulnerable.

In the Antarctic, out of, say, sever crabeater seals basking on an icefloe, six could be killed before the seventh slipped into the water, after deciding that discretion was the better part of laziness. Their very tameness and trust made one feel a cad, and that it was abhorrent to kill these seals, even when this was done for one's own and for the dogs' food supplies. British seals, on the other hand, are in general far more wary, except during the breeding seasons covered by the close seasons in this Bill, when they are even more vulnerable. The world population of grey seals has recently been estimated at 52,500, of which at least 65 per cent. (I think the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, suggested 75 per cent.) inhabit British coasts, whereas a necessarily less precise estimate of the world common seal population would be of the order of 250,000, of which probably less than 1 per cent. inhabit British waters.

I wish warmly to support this Bill. We owe much to the initiative and leadership of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for introducing this Bill and for the work and consultation which he has given to it. This debt is the greater since this Bill includes for the first time a measure of protection for the common seal as well as for the grey seal. In addition, due regard is paid to fishery industries, as well as to humane methods of killing and to conservation needs. The infliction of suffering on animals is a subject on which strong emotions can be aroused. I believe that much harm is done to the cause of those who have animal welfare at heart, and indeed to the truth of the situation, by ascribing to animals the same feelings and the same reactions to pain as those experienced by human beings; and even, sometimes, by presenting animal suffering in a more emotional light than the suffering of man. When the previous Bill on this subject was debated on May 24, 1968, the noble Lord, Lord Strange, in a speech which was delightful to read (unfortunately, I was not able to be present on that occasion) took the part of the seal. But, with due respect to the noble Lord, neither he nor any other of your Lordships live like seals, imagine like seals, nor even, I suggest, look like seals.

My Lords, we can never know precisely what the seal feels, but, granted that the suffering of wounded seals may be quite different in grade and intensity from the suffering which man would experience under the same conditions, this in no way exonerates us from taking every practicable step to reduce suffering in animals to the minimum. I say this for two reasons: first, out of consideration for the creatures as part of God's creation which are placed under our responsible care; and, secondly, because it is dehumanising, and indeed thuggish, for man to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. People need to be re-related into a state of responsible compassion towards Nature, especially where, as in the case of seal pups, Nature is at its most vulnerable.

In regard both to humanitarian considerations and to those of wasteful kill- ing, it could be argued that insistence on the use only of powerful rifles is open to question, although I welcome the prohibition of the use of shot-guns and poisons. Nevertheless, there will be occasions when the use of a high-powered rifle will be inappropriate. When a seal is being shot in the water by a marksman on land it presents only its head as target, and as this is the only instantly lethal spot the marksman can only kill or miss. If he is experienced he can reduce the wastage by sinking—in other words, by retrieving the seal again—to a minimum. But when both the seal and the marksman are on land it is quite another matter. Grey seal pups simply lie there and can be shot at very close range indeed, or they can be clubbed. During the breeding season grey seal adults may, despite human disturbance, stray ashore, where they can be shot efficiently in the head. But outside the breeding season common seals and grey seals invariably make for the water as soon as human presence is detected, and this increases many times the chances of inflicting a wound other than in the head, if a rifle be used.

In these circumstances, it is interesting to note that the use of a club is prohibited, as indeed other methods of killing are prohibited, during the close season. But one would wish to know whether it is, in fact, the intention of this Bill—and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, referred to this matter—that clubs may be used outside the respective close seasons in the circumstances in which, by Clauses 8 and 9, seals may be taken. This would seem to be required, for example, when in May a salmon bag net fisherman caught a young grey seal—that is, a moulter born during the previous autumn—and needed to deal with it in or near his boat. If he could not release it he would be obliged to club the animal, as the use of firearms would be a danger both to himself and to his boat. It is important to ensure that this sort of defence of a fishery is legitimate, and while I fully agree that, in concept, clubbing is abhorrent, nevertheless I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said. If efficiently carried out, it is in fact a humane method of killing, for the very reason that it immediately desensitises the seal.

The practice of sealers in Shetland of taking young common seals may include the netting of pups. This is effective and successfully avoids undue disturbance and wastage and injury to adults, which is sound resource management. Nevertheless, it would again be impracticable to despatch a pup captured in this way by means of a high-powered rifle at such close range from a small boat. I have been given to understand that the use of a high-powered rifle to kill common seal pups is generally less appropriate on rocky coasts than it is among the sandbanks on the Wash.

Turning from the humanitarian to the penal aspects of the Bill, I would point out that at first sight a maximum fine of £50 might appear to be too small. In 1963, when seal skin prices rose to a specially high level, £50 would have represented the value of only three or four skins, although by 1968 it could have represented the value of nine or ten. But if you take, alongside that, the added risk of forfeiture of skins, firearms, et cetera, I suggest that this should be regarded as sufficient deterrent.

I now turn to Clause 8, where a general exception allows the killing of a seal in the "immediate vicinity" of fishing net or tackle. It is that word "immediate" which I suggest needs further definition. Take the examples of the estuaries of the Tweed and Tay, where marauding seals may be seen to the seaward of sweep nets or down-tide of fixed nets, and might even be seen to be eating salmon which are specially concentrated there by dint of the river approaches and breakwater. The seal could be half-a-mile from the net. Is it to be regarded as being in the "immediate vicinity"? This would seem to need clarification.

The last comment I would make upon the Bill relates to Clause 9, which seems to me particularly wisely drafted so as to allow adequate latitude to the Secretary of State in applying the criteria by which he may give licence for seals to be taken. The damage which seals cause to fisheries may be direct—that is to say, holes torn in nets, the taking of catch and the transmission of nematode parasites—or indirect: that is to say, their effect on fish stocks. There is no doubt that every opportunity must be given to a fisherman to defend his catch and his gear, and this Bill provides admirably for this. But care must al ways be exercised before decisions are taken to reduce seal numbers on account of the alleged effect on fish stocks.

It has been argued—and this was mentioned, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—that in Scottish waters seals consume 100,000 tons of fish per year. When there is the implication that this amount of fish would otherwise be available to fishermen, it has effective propaganda value; but there are far too many qualifications to that statement for it to be upheld as an argument for reducing seal numbers at the breeding grounds. Certainly, seal stocks affect fish stocks, but the effect cannot be measured or described at present. For example, if grey seals eat a certain weight of cod and squid, what is the importance of this in relation to the weight of smaller gadoid species (such as haddock, whiting or saithe) eaten by large cod, the weight of codling eaten by squid, or the weight of squid eaten by cod? It must be remembered, nevertheless, that while seals represent the end of a food chain and will thus consume a significant proportion of fish, an important aspect of predation is the disturbance and redistribution of food species, and this may not be harmful to human interests.

There has in fact been a prolonged research effort to provide evidence of the effects of seals on fisheries. It was essential, for instance, to find an index which could be applied to the damage in order that comparisons could be made from region to region, as well as before and after any programme of seal reduction took place. A possible index was the proportion of nets in which holes were torn by seals, but the gradual replacement of natural by synthetic fibre since 1960 has virtually obliterated this factor. Another possible index might be the evaluation of questionnaires based on sightings of seals seen near nets, but this has proved to be greatly influenced by the variability of the subjective factors involved in such a procedure. Another index could be the proportion of salmon in the catch which bear unmistakable signs of mutilation caused by seals; for instance, scratches inflicted by claws. At present, however, this presents a difficulty in interpretation, as seals certainly capture their food in their mouths, while their flippers are used in swimming. It may therefore be unwise to rely upon an index while the way in which the evidence is caused remains unknown.

Therefore, it seems to me one should rely more on the effects on catch and gear. This is real, it is apparent, it is measurable—but in absolute, not in relative terms. As seal numbers go up, fisheries damage will increase, and the Secretary of State must therefore decide the level at which this becomes intolerable before approving the killing of seals at the breeding grounds. One of the reasons for which the Secretary of State may issue a licence for taking seals is: the reduction of a population surplus of seals for management purposes;… I take it that the phrase "management purposes" implies the thinning out of seals for their own or their habitat's good. The common seal cannot be said to damage its habitat as such, and certainly does not breed in colonies where the density of individuals induces mortality. Grey seals, however, can reduce a grassy and wild iris-covered island to a stinking, muddy swamp. This, in certain circumstances, may become undesirable; but it is in the nature of the species to select a breeding régime of this kind, so that it is not scientifically necessary to reduce grey seal numbers just because the colony seems disreputable.

Similarly, it cannot be argued, as one might in regard to a population of land herbivores, that it is desirable to reduce seal numbers because they are a potential threat to their own food supplies. Seals are catholic and opportunist feeders in the open sea. The exploitation of "population surplus" as a resource implies the selective killing of young males. In the case of the common seal, this is virtually impossible as the sexes are indistinguishable, but in the grey seal it is sensible and practical. It must be emphasised that an incompatibility exists between the fishermen's and the sealers' interests, for in the interest of fisheries it would be appropriate to kill adult females, as this has the greatest effect on the population, whereas in the interest of sealers it is necessary to kill young males, as doing this has the least effect on the population while producing a reasonable, commercial return.

Ultimately, the discretionary powers allowed to the Secretary of State must de- pend on a balanced objective view of the varied interests, and this discretion will be strengthened by the promotion of much-needed further research, for we are still a long way from a quantitative assessment of the appropriate levels of populations of the grey and common seals, in relation either to man's varied interests or to conservation. The latitude given within this clause and the terms under which the Secretary of State is enjoined to exercise his judgment, and in particular the consultation required with the Natural Environment Research Council, which will be in as good a position as any other body, or better, to assess the criteria by which a population surplus may be judged, is not only a strength to the Bill but an incentive to further research. My Lords, I hope that this Bill secures an early and successful passage through its successive stages in this House and in another place.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I must declare an interest—in fact, really two interests. First, I have been, for I think about eight years, the chairman of the Nature Conservancy, which is now a committee of the Natural Environment Research Council, about which the right reverend Prelate has just been speaking; and I am also a member of that Council. Secondly, I have also to say that I live in the North of Northumberland, on the coast, very near the Farnes, and in the past the Farnes have proved to be the habitat of the most controversial of the grey seal colonies. I do not think anybody has yet mentioned the difference in the habits of the common and the grey seal as to calving. Common seals calve all over the place, wherever they can find the sandbanks—for example, in the Wash.

As to the grey seal, I hope I do not look like a grey seal—I know, as the right reverend Prelate said, I do not feel like one—but I have one resemblance to them. The grey seal is always described as "a colonial animal". For most of my life I have been a "colonial animal". The main seal colonies are in the Farnes, the Orkneys and certain Hebridean islands. The Farnes is not the biggest colony; but it is very accessible and it is visited each year by an increasing number of people. The cull on the Farnes a few years ago caused a great deal of public controversy. I live near the Farnes and was President of the Northumberland and Durham County Trust which is concerned in these matters.

My Lords, I am going to be very brief; but before saying anything else I should point out that the Bill in its present form has not been formally considered by either the Natural Environment Research Council or the Nature Conservancy. I did not realise until last week-end that this Bill was going to come up to-day; so I am afraid that these are ill-prepared and purely personal words—perhaps not purely personal, because I have consulted with Professor Wynne-Edwards, Chairman of the Environment Research Council; and, as the Director of the Conservancy, I consulted also with Professor Hewer and Professor Poore. I think that both Professors (certainly Professor Hewer) were members of the committee which some seven or eight years ago went into the question of culling on the Farnes. They are leading zoologists and leading authorities on seals, and what I wish briefly to say has their agreement.

I should like first to say that I think that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who has been for several years a helpful and admirable member of the Nature Conservancy, has performed a public service in introducing this extremely useful Bill on which I know he has worked very hard. My view is one of agreement in general principles with the Bill. I am bound to make one exception, however, and to this I will return later. Before expressing this view, I would briefly (because it very much affects conservancy) outline what seems in our eyes—that is, the eyes of the Nature Conservancy and the N.E.R.C.—to have been the history of the rather controversial cull on the Fame Islands, because it gives a line on what might be the history of other culls either there or in other places.

Originally, when the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, was Chairman of the Nature Conservancy, he very rightly decided to co-operate with the Government of the day in the establishment of a committee and in the work of that committee to go into the question. The then-Deputy Director of Nature Conservancy, Dr. Worthington, who was a zoologist who had done a great deal of work on fish, was chairman of the committee. That Committee advised the Government to arrange over a five-year period a cull of one-fifth of the weaned female cubs each year; which, they thought, was a way of reducing the population in the most humane way possible. They said nothing about the common seals because in those days the common seals did not come under the Conservancy. I make a point, in parenthesis, of saying that one of the great advantages of the establishment of N.E.R.C. is that it brings together the work of all the various bodies that deal with the natural sciences: the geologists, hydrologists, oceanographers and terrestrecologists (which we are in Conservancy) and now one can deal with both kinds of seals together. That is a great advantage.

In those days this Committee was dealing with grey seals in one area only. The Conservancy advice to the Government (they were bound to offer them advice on wild creatures) was accepted. There was a great outcry about this. We all, I think—the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Nature Conservancy and I myself—under-estimated the outcry that would occur, because this type of cull had been going on in the Orkneys for a very long time, without the same amount of public protest. But we in the Conservancy stuck to our guns and we still maintain that the advice on that cull was right. The Farnes, as noble Lords know, belong to the National Trust, and the National Trust originally (for a reason that I cannot remember) accepted that recommendation for three and not five years. They later felt unable to agree to the cull going on beyond three years.

I should like to go back and say why the Director of Nature Conservancy, Mr. Max Nicholson, who had done an enormous work of conservation all over the country for over 15 years, and I myself (who know much less) accepted that cull. We accepted it because we felt that here was a problem that all conservationists face, a problem of reconciliation. There was no good in producing a one-sided solution, either entirely in favour of the seals or entirely in favour of the fishermen. One must be practical and produce something which reconciles the maintenance of a proper fishing industry with the conservation of the greatest number of seals possible consonant with that—and conservation of the seals, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, basically for their own sake. I think that was very well put by the noble Earl, Lord Chapbook. It was a problem, we felt, of balance; and because it was a problem of balance we had two ideas in mind.

The first idea is that when any body or institution is trying to conserve animals which can do damage over a long period of time it must attempt to take control of numbers. In practice that control is usually a rather imperfect one; but something must be done on those lines. I felt that was so because throughout my life I have tried to conserve animals, mainly, I admit, in Africa, but the principles are the same. I remember when touring for the Nature Conservancy in North Devonshire seeing the slopes covered with thyme, the habitat of the large blue butterfly. I met the man who was charged with looking after the butterflies and I said to him, "What are you doing here?"—because he was, in fact, a former chief game warden in Uganda. He replied: "They said to me, You're the very man to look after butterflies because you are so good at the conservation of elephants'." It sounds ridiculous but it is true; the conservation principles are the same.

If no attempt is made to take control of numbers, then in the end you are faced with demands—and demands you cannot answer—for a massacre. That is what happened in certain African countries where in the past there was a regular cull of certain animals slightly below their natural increase. That stopped; and now those animals have become so numerous that it will be necessary to have an enormous massacre which will shock a great many conservationists and cause a great amount of damage. Mr. Nicholson and I both felt that if nothing was done about the seals on the Farne Islands there would, in the end, have to be a massacre which would demoralise the colony. Although our first idea was to take control of numbers, our second idea was that that control should not be so great or carried out in such a way as to demoralise the colony and drive the seals away. In fact, the cull of one-fifth of the weaned female cubs did not do this. It was a problem of steering between Scylla and Charybdis, between opposing evils. That is the principle to which we must stick; and that is the principle of this Bill: to steer between excessive damage to fisheries and so violent a cull (or a cull carried out in such a way) as to drive away the seals.

With that in mind I felt, before reading this Bill, that powers should be taken to enforce a grey seal cull if necessary and to enforce it with access or entry to land. Secondly, I felt that the cull should not be so great or carried out in such a way as to scatter the seals. Therefore some damage to the fishery industry must be accepted. if one reads the literature on this subject one finds that it is difficult to prove exactly how great that damage is, damage to salmon, to nets or to white fish; and Lord Stonham mentioned the fact that the seal is the definitive host of the cod worm that breeds inside it. But, all the same, the damage undoubtedly is there and, as has been said before, I think that at the moment the grey seals are perhaps (in the Fames anyway) overprotected and the common seals are certainly under-protected.

With these ideas in mind, personally I welcome most of the proposals in this Bill: for example, the management and degree of protection given to the common seal population and the prohibition of the use of poisons and other less humane ways of killing seals. I would go further than that and agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has mentioned: that the Government may have to take power of access, power to go on to an owner's land if the owner will not agree to permit them to do so, and to cull the seals there.

I know that there are many conservationists in the country who would not share my feelings on this, and I respect their views. I think they are sincere; but I do not think that they are right: because if this Government, or indeed any Government, are to carry out a long-term policy in which they stick to their guns, they are bound to hold the balance even. If the balance is to be held even, the Government would in certain circumstances have to be able to go and cull the seal population. I myself visit the Fame Islands quite often. They are in two parts. There are the Inner Fames—St. Cuthbert and St. Aidan, and two small islands next to them—then a large stretch of water and the Outer Fames. In the past, seals have been entirely on the Outer Fames, but in the last few years, actually since the cull was stopped, they have started to breed on the Inner Fames. Therefore I have no doubt, from that evidence which is under one's eyes, quite apart from the count, which may be wrong, that the seal population is going up much too fast and that a cull must be done if a future massacre is to be avoided.

I also think that, if this is so, if the Government are to enforce the cull and take right of access they should take full advice before doing so. "Full advice" would mean advice from the scientists at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and also from scientists at the Natural Environment Research Council. My one problem regarding this Bill is that Clause 9(3) makes it possible for the Secretary of State to carry out a cull anywhere, even in a nature reserve, without prior consultation. I think that a duty should be laid on the Secretary of State to consult the Natural Environment Research Council about any cull of seals, whether it is for the protection of fisheries or not. What is more, if the cull for the protection of fisheries is to take place in a national nature reserve he should obtain the consent of the N.E.R.C. or the Nature Conservancy.

For this, my Lords, I have a reason. The difficult point about the Farnes, at any rate, is not the law but the actual carrying out of the operation. If the balance is held even, and demonstrably so, there will always be some critics of any cull of the Fames; but they will be rather unreasonable critics, and the Government could oppose them. I think the balance was held even a few years ago when a cull was started which went on for three years; and I think that that was the right thing to do. That sort of cull, increased in numbers if necessary, would be the right thing to do now, but what I do not think would be reasonable would be if the Government carried out a cull of that sort and entered on National Trust property without the consent of the National Trust, without having first obtained the views of the Natural Environment Research Council. So I very much hope that this important alteration will be made in the Bill. If, in the last resort, it were not made, I should feel bound to vote against the Bill; but I think that probably it will be made. With that qualification, I should like, before sitting down, again to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, very much for what he has done and to welcome this Bill.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, as one who gave careful consideration.o the Bill which came before your Lordships' House a year ago and who has also studied the present Bill, I find myself very much in agreement with what has been said about the improvements which the noble Earl has succeeded in making in the Bill to which he is asking; your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon. I do not pretend to be an expert on seals. I listened with very great interest (and there was a considerable increase in my sparse knowledge on the subject) to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, and then to the most interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale, who dealt largely with the main topic of my own remarks this afternoon. Obviously both spoke with considerable scientific knowledge as well as with a very humane appreciation of the problem involved in this question of culling.

In warning us against a pathetic fallacy, the right reverend Prelate said that Members of your Lordships' House do not feel like seals, or even look like seals. I am not quite sure whether that was intended as a compliment, although it occurred to me that I know one Member of your Lordships' House who cart. dive into the water with much the same skill and ability as a seal. I think that to the ordinary person the most interesting point about the seal is the beautiful and poetic motion with which it enters the water.

My Lords, I intervened in the debate which took place a year ago because, as one of the Deputy Chairmen of the National Trust, I wanted to obtain an assurance from the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that he did not intend his Bill to provide for him, or the Secretary of State, or for anybody else, a right to trespass on the land of the National Trust for the purpose of culling seals. That matter has been dealt with particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale. So far as I can see, this Bill is on exactly the same lines as the Bill which was presented last year. Many members of the National Trust are worried because in Clause 9(1)(c) of the Bill there is a reference to a licence being issued by the Secretary of State to kill or take seals within any area specified in the licence… Many of our members felt that if this became the law of the land it would enable the Minister to issue a licence for people to go on to the Fame Islands against the prohibition of the National Trust and to cull the seals there. As a lawyer, it did not seem to me that that was a correct interpretation, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that as a layman he thought that what I said was right. In his reply to the debate the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, did not deal with the point.

I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack would be prepared to advise us, but I should have thought that the Bill does not override the position of the National Trust as the owners of the Islands and the seal colony. I should have been content to stop at that point had not the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale, both, in effect, suggested that the Bill should be amended; and there have been rumours floating around that Amendments are to be put down at the next stage in the progress of this Bill which would enable the Minister to issue an Order for people to carry out a cull, and be entitled to trespass on the Fame Islands to carry it out, whether or not the governing authority of the National Trust is prepared to permit them to do so. That would be a very serious inroad into the rights of the National Trust and into the ordinary rights of ownership in this country.

My Lords, when we were first. approached, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wanted a period of five years, as the noble Lord has said. We agreed to an experimental period of less than the five years which was asked for, and at the end of that time we were asked again to extend the period. But in the interval a very great deal of scientific information has come in, and it is significant that the speakers this afternoon who know most about these things have continuously referred to the need for more research into the questionable statistics on which so much of this has been based. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who spoke on the last occasion, pointing out some extraordinary divergences in the statistics which had been produced by different speakers in the debate and asking how, without agreed facts, we could come to the right conclusion.


My Lords, I have the greatest admiration for the National Trust—I am a member of it—but I have never understood them to be in any sense responsible for the wild life in their areas. They are preservers of land and buildings but certainly not of wild life. I should have thought, in view of the provisions of this Bill, that the National Trust should give way and allow this Bill to apply to their land as well as to anywhere else.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord owns the game on his land, but is he suggesting that landowners are not concerned with the game on their land'? Of course they are. The reason why the National Trust did not renew the licence to cull, which it gave after the experimental period, was that the evidence was so evenly divided. The noble Lord who has just sat down pointed out that many eminent conservationists do not accept that this cull is correct. On the National Trust Committee, I had to consider the whole of this evidence. I started with a prepossession in favour of culling and, indeed, voted for it, and only the fact that the evidence was so divided made us decide not to renew the licence.

After all, if we are going to agree that hundreds and thousands of these wretched pup seals are to be killed, there must he a very strong case. The Chairman of the National Trust, my noble friend Lord Antrim, made several visits to the Islands to examine the position on the spot in consultation with experts. When we had considered the whole of the evidence, we said that we were not satisfied and that it was up to those who were asking permission to go on to our land and cull these seals to prove that it was necessary in the interests of the seals and in the interests of the fishery. Every time the Minister has come back and asked for a licence we have asked for the evidence for which we have been waiting—but he has never produced any.

As I said a moment ago, it is clear from speeches of noble Lords to-day that research is still necessary. We of the National Trust are not emotionalists, anxious to defend the seals at any price. We are people concerned with the trust given to us by Parliament to manage our properties properly and effectively and in the general interests of the wild life that live upon them, and it would be altogether wrong that we should withdraw from that principle without having a case made to us effectively and properly.

With this Bill as it stands I am content, but I should like to say that if at the next stage an Amendment is put down which would enable the Minister to issue licences to people to go on to the Fame Islands and kill the seals, then we of the National Trust hope that many Members of your Lordships' House will rally round and see that such an Amendment is defeated.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I was not able to be present last year when the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, introduced a Bill which was in many respects similar to the one we have before us to-day, but last night I read the whole of that debate and found it both informative and entertaining. Having listened to all noble Lords who have spoken to-day, I am surprised that so many new and valuable points have been brought forward.

I am not sure that I have to declare an interest, but I am speaking to-day on behalf of the Crown Estate Commissioners. As your Lordships will know, the Crown Estate own virtually all the foreshore in this country and virtually all the seabed. So we are naturally extremely concerned about this question of seals. Over many years we have wondered whether we could not, in some way or another, issue licences to control the killing of seals. I have been particularly anxious about this in areas such as the Wash where, as we have heard to-day, the common seal is, if anything, on the decline. But in spite of the ingenuity of our legal advisers, we found that we were not able to do what we wanted. The reason, very simply, is this. The public have the right of navigation over the foreshore and seabed, and if, in exercising that right, a navigator may have a rifle in his boat and goes along and kills a seal or two—or more, for that matter—there is nothing we can do about it. So the Commissoners strongly support the general principles behind this Bill: because if it is passed and becomes law, it will achieve what we have been unable to do ourselves.

As a man, I recognise the rights of the commercial net fisherman, the interests of the riparian owners of salmon rivers and many other interests. As a seal (and here I risk the intervention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, by following the footsteps of my noble kinsman, Lord Strange, who spoke as a seal in the last debate), I would say that if you humans have decided, for one reason or another, that you have got to control us, then I would ask two things: first, that you control in such a way that our numbers and our race are not threatened with extinction; and, secondly, that any culling of us you do in as humane and as kind a way as possible. I believe that in general this Bill achieves both these objectives. I recognise that there are one or two controversial points which will come up on Committee stage, but in general I hope, with all noble Lords who have spoken to-day, that this Bill will have a Second Reading and in due time will find its way on to the Statute Book.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords. while I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill, I fear that I must start off by crossing rifles with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, because I fully share—and more than share—the apprehensions expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and the right reverend Prelate as to the inadequacy of the 45-grain bullet for the purpose of killing seals. The weapon to he used, Lord Cranbrook informs us, is the Hornet Magnum .22 rifle which, within its limitations, is a wholly admirable weapon. Its limitations are that it lakes a very light bullet, which is little more in weight than the ordinary rifle .22 bullet with which all your Lord: hips are probably familiar.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, made the remarkable statement that practically all seals were shot in the head. That statement I cannot agree with at all. It may well be that on occasion many grey seals are shot bobbing about in the water—though it is by no means easy to hit that bobbing head—but, as already mentioned by several speakers, as happens in my own area at the mouth of the Tay when seals are out on sandbanks, and are disturbed, they make for the water with quite remarkable agility, considering their form which, although so magnificent in the water, is so clumsy on land. If they are to he fired at with a rifle, the chance of hitting them in the head, no matter how accurate the rifle may be, is minimal. I should like to see the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and their advisers, get together and prohibit the use of a rifle with a bullet weighing less than, say, 100 grains.

It has to be remembered also that the 600 foot-pounds mentioned in the Bill as being the muzzle energy of the Hornet is a very low muzzle energy; and, furthermore, the lighter the bullet, the more quickly the muzzle energy falls off. The result is that with this rifle, which is very accurate at a range up to 200 yards, once a bullet at that point strikes anywhere other than an eye or ear, since the seal has a thick skull the bullet may well glance off and inflict, at best, a slight wound, and, at worst, a fatal wound, from which the animal will not recover, but which will prevent its being recovered. All in all, I do not think the use of such light bullets is in any way merciful.

I speak to-day, my Lords, not only in a private capacity, but also as the President of the Scottish Association of District Salmon Fishery Boards, who have asked me to stress the point that has already been made, first by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, of access to seal haunts when the owners of them are not prepared to permit it. I must say that it strikes me as being gloriously humorous when we have the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, on the Back Benches of a Socialist Government, vigorously upholding the rights of the private landowner against Government access. But he is, of course, to use the modern vernacular, completely "off beam", because if a landowner allows vast masses of rabbits to pollute his land and invade his neighbour's territory, the local agricultural committee, after warnings which have not been heeded, has full power to send a rabbit killer on to that landowner's land, kill the rabbits, and charge the landowner with the expense, less anything that has been earned by the sale of the rabbits. This is true, also, if an owner has on his land thistles which he permits to pollute neighbouring ground; he also can be prosecuted.


My Lords, surely the noble Earl would agree that somebody had to prove that the land was over-infested with rabbits. The whole point here is that nobody has proved that the Farnes are over-infested with seals. Some people say that they are, and some say that they are not.


That, I am afraid, is a very skilful evasion of the point, because, so far as I understood the noble Lord, he was not merely objecting to the fact that damage had not, according to him, been proved, but was also objecting to the fact that the Government might take powers to go on to somebody's land whether or not such damage had been proven. The question of whether or not damage has occurred is obviously one that should be determined by the Nature Conservancy acting under the aegis of the Advisory Council. Only on that advice should the Government issue permits. They might well issue them—and I hope they would—for a limited number of seals to be killed.

I am certain that such a power is required, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Howick, has said, if something of this kind is not done, eventually there will be a massacre, public feeling will be outraged, of a great deal of unnecessary ill-feeling will be raised, and it will all be to the detriment of the seal which we are all so anxious to conserve. The seal is a magnificent animal, and it is unfortunate that without any doubt he does, on occasion, do a considerable amount of damage. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, spoke of the damage done to the nets when the nets are being pulled in, but he did not mention, what is much more serious in Scotland, what happens when the seal gets into the stake nets that we have along the coast there. Not only does he feed on salmon, but when he wants to leave he chews his way out through the net. The result is considerable expense in repairing the net, and possibly the loss of a whole tide's catch, which may be very serious from the point of view of the fishermen. I am delighted that poison is not to he used, and so are all the angling and netting interests. Nobody wanted that foul form of destruction to be maintained.

There is only one other point that I should like to make, because, although there were a good many other things that I wanted to say, they have already been said, and at this hour I do not want to detain your Lordships longer than necessary. I wish to express mild disagreement with the right reverend Prelate in only one aspect of his wholly admirable speech. While I think that a £50 fine may be adequate enough for a first offence, I should like to see it raised to at least £100 for a second or subsequent offence: because it does not always follow that when a malefactor is apprehended one manages to secure his rifle; and he may also have managed to get rid of a considerable amount of his catch. Therefore I think that for a second offence a higher penalty should be inflicted. With those mild disagreements, I, like other noble Lords, wholeheartedly welcome this Bill.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that at this late hour your Lordships will forgive me if I do not reply to every point that has been made. I should like to start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for not having answered the point he made during the last debate that we had. However, I thought that he then answered it out of his own mouth, as he did this afternoon, by saying that, as a lawyer, he disagreed with the people who said that a licence could authorise people to go on other people's land and shoot. I thought that he himself was fully satisfied, and I may say that I entirely agree with what he said.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Stonham, Lord Mowbray, Lord Howick, Lord Mansfield and Lord Chorley, raised the point of access. I think I shall find it quite impossible to resist an Amendment applying to seals the same conditions as are applied to deer, hares, rabbits and other animals of that nature by Sections 98 and 100 of the Agriculture Act 1947. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who is clearly worried about this point, that the National Trust are already s object to the conditions of those two sections of the Agriculture Act so far as other animals on their land are concerned, and I think that perhaps, on mature reflection, the noble Lord will agree with me that, when it is presented to us in that way, we are faced with an inescapable conclusion that all those animals must be looked at in the same way.

I do not want to go back to the last debate that we had, but I think one speaker mentioned the question of the immediate vicinity of the nets. I recollect that on that occasion I reminded your Lordships of a notorious case in which a man shot his wife's lover outside the bedroom door when it was held to be sufficiently in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom to be justification for having killed him; and he got off with manslaughter. I think the same would apply to a seal fisherman who shot a seal some distance away from his nets.

We then get down to the, I think, purely emotional problem of the weapon to be used. I will not join issue with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, on the ballistics of the various rifles to be used, because that would involve me in a long dissertation on the internal mechanism of the seals, which may well come up at a later stage. But I may say that I was a little shocked at the noble Earl's saying that he shoots at galloping seals at such a range that he cannot kill them outright with his rifle. I hope that, on maturer thought—


I am thankful to say, my Lords, that I have never fired at a seal, galloping or otherwise.


My Lords, perhaps he will in future prevent his friends from so doing in the immediate vicinity of his house.

But, as I was saying, we come down to this really emotional question of the club. This was started by the noble Lord, Lord Daresfort, when the Grey Seals Protection Act 1932 was before your Lordships' House, and he referred to seals' being clubbed to death. Clubbed to death, like being shot to death, has a sort of Sebastian implication about it, about clubbing on the outside first, gradually coming into a vulnerable part of the body. In point of fact, the animals which are killed by the club are seal pups; they are under a month old. The sutures of their skulls are not yet joined—and noble Baronesses will know what that means in a baby, and noble Lords will know the terror with which you held your child when you saw its pulse going in its forehead. These seal pups are killable at that stage in their lives, by a very minor blow, and a well-balanced club is infinitely the most humane weapon to use to kill a young seal.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to the responsibility which various people had for these societies, and the like. One thing I have found through the whole of the consultations which I have had about seals is that they are tremendously emotive creatures. There is a responsibility upon those of us who have the chance to influence the opinions of people in societies to which we belong, to try to get away from the emotional outlook on all these things. "Clubbing to death" sounds terrible. "Knocking on the head" does not sound quite so bad. When we bear in mind, as I have said, that the animal killed is practically new born, and is killed by the first blow—and, if not, it is killed by the second blow, which follows within seconds—this is infinitely more humane than trying to stand on a muddy sandbank or a slippery rock and shooting the animal with a rifle.

Quite apart from the fact that the provision of the rifle to which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, objects is dealt with in the Bill, all the other weapons used for the commercial sealing—which is carried out, by and large, only during the close season, because it is the pup skins which the commercial sealer wants and by which he makes his money—I quite deliberately left it to the Minister to decide upon the weapon. When the pups are first born they are so tame that you can stand with one between your feet and shoot it down like that with a small .22 rifle which would be hopelessly inadequate for a larger animal. It would be incredibly dangerous to use a high-velocity rifle when a number of People are engaged on an operation of that sort.

My Lords, the Minister will have to decide on this matter. I hope that we shall be able so to influence public opinion that the Minister will be able to give permission for clubs to be used because, as I have said, they are far the most humane weapons. It is those who are in responsible positions, like the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in the National Trust, and those who belong to the conservation societies—as I do—who should try to make it clear to people that these things are not so terrible as they sound. I should like to say one last thing. I hope that I am not going to find myself in the embarrassing position, as a member of the Nature Conservancy, in arguing with my Chairman when it comes to the Committee stage. I feel sure we shall not do so.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and commited to a Committee of the Whole House.

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