§ Sir BASIL PETO
I beg to move, in page 1, to leave out lines 12 to 22.
In order to point out the effect of the Amendment I must show the Committee what the Bill proposes that is different from the existing Act. In Clause 1 the Bill extends the close time for the grey seal, or Halichœrus grypus, from 1st September to 31st December, whereas in the existing Act the close season is from 1st October to 15th December. The existing Act, which was passed in 1914, terminated on 31st December, 1918, and since then has been extended annually under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The two main differences, therefore, are that this Bill gives permanent protection and a longer protection in the breeding season 112 than the present Act. The Bill, however, in the proviso which I am moving to omit, renders nugatory the whole of the Measure at the option at any time of one or other of two Ministers, namely, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Theymay at any time by order direct, either generally or as respects any area described in the order, that, notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provision there shall be no close season during the twelve months.The Committee will notice that this is not only a provision that the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may modify the protection that is given in some particular locality, if, for example, they have evidence against the grey seal that it is destroying some fisheries; but it says that they may order either generally or in respect to any area. Those words really mean that at any moment they can negative the whole of this Bill for the ensuing 12 months, and may go on doing that as often as 12 months succeeds 12 months. I object to that. At a time when we are supposed to be concerned with grave national matters I object to legislation being brought forward to supplant an Act which is now carried on from year to year, and which specifies the exact measure of protection which these animals have in the breeding season, by a Measure which hands over the administration to Departments. It is true that there is a saving Clause which says that the Order must lie upon the Table of the House of Commons for 48 days.
My second objection is that there can be no reason for taking action in this matter unless the grey seal is shown to be destructive to fish. I have gone closely into this point, and looked into the previous Debates, and I can find no evidence against the grey seal which would hold water for a moment with any responsible person. When the Minister of Agriculture introduced the Bill on Second Reading the other day he said that in the main the grey seal did no damage to fish. In the Debate of 2nd March last year the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetlands (Sir R. Hamilton), now a Member of the Government, who was most anxious to attack the grey seal—because he is the parent of this Bill and has always been 113 anxious to get the existing Act off the Statute Book—could only bring forward the evidence of an anonymous article in the "Fishing Gazette" which suggested that the menu of a grey seal might include—might include—two 10-lb. cod and several pounds of shellfish at a meal. It was an article which assumed that 50 lb. in weight of edible fish—cod, ling, salmon and shellfish—might be eaten in one day by one seal. The hon. Member might just as well have read out the menu of the Carlton or the Ritz, including pâte de foie gras and caviare, and said it was quite possible that if it were put before the grey seal it would consume several such meals. There was not a particle of evidence that they ever eat a codfish or a salmon. In another place Lord Danesfort said specifically that the food of the grey seal was mainly dogfish.
I notice that nearly all the great opponents of the grey seal are now on the Treasury Bench and consequently condemned to silence. In addition to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Kingston-upon-Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) now graces the Treasury Bench, and is also now silent, though he has said that if a grey seal could catch dogfish it would be able to destroy salmon, plaice or cod. There is an obvious fallacy in such an argument, because the grey seal is a purely coastal animal and never travels far from its breeding place at any time. My authority for that is the deputy-keeper of zoology at the British Museum. It does eat dogfish, because dogfish frequent the rocks where the seal lives, but it does not travel out to sea where the cod are found, and no evidence has been produced that it is destructive of edible fish.
When, a year before the Debate to which I have already referred on 2nd March last year, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland questioned Mr. Buxton, the then Minister of Agriculture, as to the discontinuance of rewards for the destruction of seals in the Wash Mr. Buxton said that the Ministry's investigations had produced no evidence to show that the common seal caused any material damage to fisheries and he refused to continue that expenditure for their extermination. Prior to that a reward of 10s. had been offered for each 114 seal's head, and £1 for each stomach produced as well as the head. That showed that in the matter of the brown seal the payment of money for its destruction had proceeded upon scientific lines, because an opportunity was sought of examining the contents of the stomach. Surely a similar investigation ought to have been undertaken by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries before bringing in the particular part of this Measure to which I object. Apparently there has been no such investigation, though the House was led to believe that there would be investigation before these Orders were made. Mr. Tom Johnston, when Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, stated definitely that no Order would be brought forward by the Secretary of State unless he could produce evidence in support of the Order. His exact words were:Sound evidence backed, say, by the Fishery Board or other reliable evidence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March 1931; col. 165, Vol. 249.]That was a statement which considerably misled the House, because I notice that following that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), a strong opponent of the grey seal also now on the Treasury Bench—it is curious how many promotions to the Treasury Bench this question of the grey seal has secured—stated that the Bill only gave the Minister power to act "after investigation." There is not a word in the Bill about investigation. I have an Amendment later on the Paper in order to secure that there shall be an investigation. Mr. King, who studied this question of the grey seal, and made a report of his investigations, asked for an unbiased inquiry to be undertaken by the Ministry before they did anything. His other suggestion as to the Order being placed on the Table and regulations made as to the method of killing the seals is incorporated in the Bill, but the suggestion about an investigation has been omitted.
It has become clear to me that the whole question hinges upon the facts—if there are any facts—of what the grey seal really eats. I have taken the trouble to find out from as many people as I can who have made a study of this subject. Mr. Hibbert, who has lived for over 30 years in the Scilly Islands, writes: 115My experience of over 30 years in the Scillies goes to show that they"—that is, the grey seals—are harmless, picturesque and of no serious menace to the fiish supply.He is a keen fisherman and a zoologist, and I asked him to expand that statement, and he wrote me a further letter on 2nd April.I have been a very regular visitor for over 30 years to the Scillies and have seen seals at almost all seasons. Further, I have fished for hours on end catching pollack while my friends counted 47 seals among the eastern Isles of Scilly. True they do eat pollack when they can get them hut they prefer dogfish and conger, and if anyone could witness their skill in managing a large conger they would be astonished and edified.I remember that in my first speech on this subject, delivered in the early hours of the morning two or three years ago, I mentioned this case of the conger, and I was very interested to know that the grey seal, which has been accused of eating such large quantities of valuable fish like salmon and cod, prefers destructive fish like conger and dogfish. Another correspondent, who has also had great experience of these animals but who prefers that I should not mention his name in the House, says:My experience of these animals is that they feed largely upon dogfish, pollack and fish not usually used for food, and the fisherman's complaint of their destructiveness towards food fish is not justified. Fisher men's complaints, indeed, are rarely justified. They themselves, and the oil burning ships, are responsible for an almost unlimited destruction of fish and bird life.9.0 p.m.
If it is true that on the average the grey seal consumes more destructive fish than valuable fish, I think we should be doing a very bad day's work if we gave the Minister the powers which are provided in this Bill. I want to provide a genuine protection for the grey seal in the breeding season, and I am prepared to make that permanent. That is a power which I want to see inserted in this Bill. Not long ago the House passed a Measure dealing with the green plover which prohibited the consumption of plovers' eggs. We knew exactly what the green plover lived on, and it was for that reason that we passed a Bill to give it protection in its breeding season in order to get it to multiply as much as possible. One of the plovers' principal 116 foods is the wire worm. It is not so easy for the Minister to find out what seals eat, but I do not think he should ask for all these powers until his Department or the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have made sufficient investigations to be able to say with certainty that the grey seal is the enemy of the fisheries and not a friend. Before the Minister issues an order under this Measure I think there should be careful investigation, and that is why I have moved my Amendment. I have made a good many investigations as to whether anybody could give me any evidence that the grey seal has been known to frequent the river estuaries where the netting of salmon is going on, and I have not been able to get evidence that any of these seals are in the habit of frequenting the salmon fisheries. This view is confirmed by the deputy-keeper at the British Museum of Natural History who says that the grey seals are coastal animals and do not wander. Consequently there is no necessity for the words in the Bill which I am moving to exclude. I trust that the Committee will agree that I have made out a case for further investigation before we grant any such powers as those which are asked for in this Bill, and I hope we shall pass this Measure with my Amendment inserted, because I believe that the words I have suggested will genuinely protect the grey seal.
§ Mr. LEWIS
I rise to support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). I do not think that the Secretary of State for Scotland should fall into the state of assuming that all men are as reasonable as himself. If the right hon. Gentleman was permanently the Secretary of State for Scotland many of us who are interested in the preservation of the fauna of this country think he might safely he entrusted with the powers conferred by this Bill. We do not know who will succeed the present Secretary of State for Scotland, and it might very well be that in years to come we might have a Secretary of State for Scotland who for some reason or other would be particularly susceptible in regard to some particular fishing industry, and he might care nothing for the preservation of the wild life of this country. Such a Minister would have the power to do irreparable 117 damage in the course of a very short time. I think the omission of these words would make for the protection of surviving wild mammals in this country.
The grey seal is an animal which is particularly liable to be exterminated by man, owing to the circumstances of the rearing of its young. Unlike the common seal, whose young within a few hours can take to the water, and, to some extent at any rate, fend for themselves, the young of the grey seal remain on shore for some four or six weeks before they learn to swim, and during that period they are absolutely helpless if attacked by man. We may hear in the course of the Debate arguments directed to showing that certain particular fishing interests may be damaged if grey seals increase. On that point I would say, first, that the fish which swim in the sea do not belong to any particular fishing interest until they are caught. If they belong to anyone, they belong to the whole country, and, if the country decides that it does not desire entirely to lose an interesting type of animal, and for that purpose is prepared to forgo a certain quantity of fish, I do not see that the fishing interest can claim that its own possessions are in any way affected. Apart from that, there is, as has already been pointed out, abundant scientific testimony to the effect that normally the grey seal feeds on fish which are not used for human feed. If hon. Members will refer to text books on zoology, they will find universal testimony to the effect that the principal food of the grey seal is, as has been pointed out this evening, the dog fish—a form of fish which is not useful for purposes of food, and which any fisherman will tell you is in itself harmful to fishing interests, owing to the damage that it does to nets and in other ways. Therefore, from that point of view, a case can be made out that the grey seal is helpful rather than harmful to fishing interests.
Those who support this Amendment are asking the Committee to preserve something which, if it be destroyed, can never be replaced. If a forest is cut down, it may take a long time for young trees planted to grow up and take the place of that forest, but it can be done in time. If, however, a wild animal be exterminated, nothing can be done to replace that particular species. Therefore, from that point of view, I hope the Committee will hear with sympathy the arguments that 118 are addressed to making this Bill what it says on the face of it that it is, namely, a Bill to make further provision for the protection of the grey seal. If the words which we desire to leave out are allowed to remain, it will be, not a Bill for the further protection of the grey seal, but a Bill to make provision in certain circumstances for the extermination of the grey seal. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will see that these arguments have some weight, and that, in the interests of the preservation of our all too limited wild fauna, he will agree to the deletion of these words.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
I put down this Amendment at about the same time as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Pete), and my reason for doing so was that for a number of years, as some hon. Members may possibly recollect, I represented one of the finest bodies of fishermen who exist in this country, and it has been my privilege and pleasure to accompany those fishermen on their work and to learn something of the difficulties of their life and of their trade. The argument that I want to put before my right hon. Friend is that, if there is to be cheap fish for the people, and if the fishermen are to have security in their industry, this remover of the scourge of the fishermen must be permitted to live and multiply. It has been my privilege and pleasure, as I have said, to see the work of the fishermen of a great fishing fleet, and I know the enormous damage that is done to the nets and other necessary equipment used in fishing for herring and cod. If it were necessary, I could prove by a balance sheet that, in the same ratio in which the grey seal—not the brown—is permitted to breed, there will come a cheapening of fish in the market, the food of the poorest working classes in our towns, and a greater opportunity for our fishermen to pursue their useful calling. If we were dealing with the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty, I could, I suggest, bring forward very proper arguments to prove that the supply of able-bodied seamen in the Navy rests to a very great extent upon the fishermen of this country, and the fishermen themselves rest upon the possibility of their getting a fair livelihood.
The grey seal is a very great factor in this hard-tested industry of fishing, in 119 inducing boys to come into the industry, I believe I am correct in saying that the costs, in our East Coast fishing industry—including coal, oil, wear and tear of the boats, and including the change-over of fishing ground—would be reduced by not less than 21 per cent. as a result of an increase of 10 per cent. of the present known number of grey seals that are to be found on the North Coast of Scotland, and this reduction in cost could be passed on to the working-class consumers in the South. While I pay full tribute to the scientific and aesthetic motives for retaining this mammal on our coasts, my argument to-night is mainly that it would encourage the fishermen to come into this trade and to provide more and cheaper food for the people inland. I say that that would be a direct result of the legitimate encouragement of this mammal. Previous speakers have shown that it is destructive fish alone that is taken by the grey seal. If further proof of that were necessary, I have here an excellent little booklet, written under the auspices of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and containing cogent evidence to that effect, but I prefer to rely upon the practical knowledge which I acquired when I had the honour of representing in this House some of the most splendid fishermen in this country.
I emphasise most strongly that the practical result of allowing the grey seal to drop out of the life around our coasts will be detrimental to the interests of cheap food for the working classes of this country, and it will be against the interests of the Navy, whose sailors are largely provided from the fishing stock of our country—to their honour be it said—because fishermen will certainly not bring their sons into the trade if it is made impossible for them to get a living by it. The National Government has done good work in another direction in this connection. I cannot now enter into the prevention of dumping of foreign fish, but I would point out to the Government that they can also do good work by supporting this Bill. While I should not be prepared for a moment to suggest any improper motives on the part of the remarkable number of anti-grey seal men who have been called to the Front Bench, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not 120 allow any predisposition that he may have to influence him in this matter, but will give the necessary facilities to the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple has moved.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no past in this controversy. I come, to it fresh. If I have any prejudice at all, it is in favour of the fishing industry. If he has any prejudices or predilections for the fishing industry, I share them to the full. But I can assure him, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), that there is no intention on the part of the Government to use this Measure for the extermination of this interesting mammal, the grey seal. I should not have thought such an assurance would be necessary but I know it is necessary, for this is a long controversy, and things have been said which have indicated that an unwise use might be made of the powers that we are seeking, but far from it being our intention or object to exterminate, or even to reduce seriously the numbers of the grey seal, the object of the Bill is to make further provision for its protection. In using the powers that are to be entrusted to us, the interests of the fishing industry will be the predominant consideration in our minds, and the need of preserving this interesting species will be an almost equally important consideration.
There is really no conflict between us. It is ridiculous to suppose that, so long as the grey seal exists in its present numbers, it represents any danger to the fisheries of the country, but it is a little doubtful whether its diet is confined entirely to dogfish, and in chasing the fish of which it may be in pursuit on occasion it does damage to nets if, in a particular locality or at a particular time, its numbers happen to be unduly large. While we are giving this additional protection to the seal, we do not disregard the danger which it might constitute to the interests of the fishermen themselves.
There is not the slightest intention to persecute the grey seal and there is no deep laid plot to collect the opponents of the Bill on the Treasury Bench and there muzzle them. Far from that being the case, we believe this Measure will 121 give a permanent protection to this interesting species, which it is our intention to preserve, and if, as has been suggested, some successor of mine or some other Government had some other intention, undoubtedly they would be checked by Parliament. I cannot conceive that any House of Commons would allow the extinction of the grey seal. Any orders made by the Minister of Agriculture or myself will have to lie on the Table for 48 days. It cannot be done without anyone knowing about it. It cannot be done by a little consultation in some Government Department of which no one ever gets to know. I cannot believe that the extinction of the grey seal could happen without an effective protest from the House. Ths hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple on the Second Reading rather suspected that I was inclined possibly to attack the seal.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I can assure him that I am not so bloody-minded; indeed, I am not bloody-minded 'at all, and, if I was succeeded by someone who had worse intentions towards the grey seal, this Bill is the best protection the grey seal could have, because it ensures publicity, whereas, if the Bill is not passed, and if you allow the protection of the grey seal to rest, as it does at present, merely on the Act which is now in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and if you had someone in my place who was not determined to ensure the preservation of the grey seal, and if you had one of those periodical agitations which arise for its destruction, the present Act might well be swept out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and the seal would then be left without any protection at all.
The Measure does not, indeed, give absolute protection. On the one hand, you have those who want absolute protection, and on the other hand you have those who want to do away with the grey seal altogether. This Bill gives the additional protection which my hon. Friends want for the grey seal, subject only to this consideration, that it shall be left to the Minister to decide whether in a particular locality or at a particular time this protection is needed for the fishing industry. It is very difficult to catalogue the circumstances in which you might require 122 to exercise your powers, and, therefore, it is necessary to have a general power which will only be used when it is necessary on behalf of the interests affected. I hope I have succeeded in making it clear to those who have brought forward this Amendment that our objects are, I will not say identical but similar, and I hope I have persuaded them that it is necessary in the interests of the grey seal itself to give protection by a permanent Act, and similarly, that those who fear that serious damage might be done by a growth in the numbers of the grey seal should have the safeguard which this discretionary power in the hands of the Minister gives them.
§ Sir B. PETO
I must say that I regretted to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland say so much about his good intentions, and really so little in answer to my speech. I have to bear in mind the fact that the road to a certain place is paved with good intentions, and as I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman I am most anxious he should not go there. I feel that at this time of the evening and in this state of the House, although the Secretary of State really made no case against the omission of this proviso, as I have had an opportunity of putting my case, and in view of what he has said, I should not do any good by taking up the time by a Division. I, therefore, beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir B. PETO
I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, at the end, to add the words:(4) Provided that no order can or shall be made with regard to the island of Hysker, in the Outer Hebrides, and an area extending to a distance of twelve miles from the island in all directions, and further that Hysker and the area aforesaid shall remain as a sanctuary for grey seals wherein they shall have, at all seasons of the year, complete protection and that the penalties set forth in Section two of this Act shall apply to any person win) kills or injures or attempts to kill or injure a grey seal within the area referred to in this Sub-section.The object of this proviso is to make sure that we have at least one sanctuary where no order made by the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries can run. There should be one place where the grey seal cannot under any eventuality be exter- 123 minated even in the case of great pressure being brought to bear by fishermen for the destruction of grey seals. The effect would be to prevent the entire extinction of the species so far as these islands are concerned. The variety of grey seals which inhabit the Baltic are distinct from those which inhabit all these islands from the Farne Islands to the Orkneys and Shetlands and Hebrides, and this proviso would not do more than prevent these animals being absolutely exterminated on the island because, in the matter of food, they are coastal animals and I am assured by the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum that his investigations and the experience of people who have studied the animals, show that if exterminated in other districts those districts will not be repopulated from this sanctuary. That is to say if the grey seal which breeds on some particular island is killed there, that particular island will not be repopulated from the other islands.
This would ensure that that would not happen, and that whatever pressure is brought upon the Minister by the fishing interests or others, there shall always be one place, namely, this island in the Hebrides and an area extending to a distance of 12 miles in all directions, which shall remain a sanctuary for grey seals, where they will have at all seasons of the year complete protection, and the penalties set out in Clause 2 will apply to any person who kills or injures, or attempts to kill or injure, a grey seal within this area. It would be of no use having this little island as a sanctuary if people could kill the grey seal in adjacent waters. You must have an area round the island, and I suggest that if 12 miles is good enough for the American rum runner, it should also apply to this case, and it should not be the three-mile limit. I want more than three miles. I want this little island of Hysker and 12 miles around it. I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment, so that there may be this one sanctuary where the grey seal cannot in any circumstances be exterminated.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I am sorry the Secretary of State for Scotland was not able to help us a little more. I notice 124 he also seemed to feel that the fishermen would be hurt in respect of this Bill—I can assure him the fisherman wants it—but in this case as regards the sanctuary we are asking for, it will give the fisherman his opportunity of concentrating these mammals. If this particular proviso, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, is not suitable, I suggest he should consult a committee of the fishermen on the eastern coast of England who are greater experts than he can get in his own native country on this matter. That committee could co-operate with the First Lord of the Admiralty and naval experts. If the islands suggested are not suitable, I suggest that the Admiralty, plus a committee of fishermen, could guide him in the matter. As we have sanctuaries for birds and animals let us have this sanctuary which will not only cater for the esthetic, but be also very useful as to food supply. If the right hon. Gentleman would give us this sanctuary, I am sure the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) would be satisfied, and so should I.
§ Mr. LEWIS
I want to add one word to what I said on the previous Amendment. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in his reply to that Amendment, laid great stress on his intentions. He said he had no intention or desire to exterminate the grey seal. May I point out that the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman are only of value to the grey seal so long as he remains Secretary of State for Scotland? He has an opportunity this evening to translate those good intentions into deeds. If he is unable to accept the wider Amendment, may I appeal to him to accept either the form of words put forward by the hon. Baronet or some similar words with a view to securing at least some asylum for these grey seals? I do not think even the most violent enemy of the grey seal could seriously argue that the protection afforded by one small island and a certain area of sea around it could possibly result in material damage, whatever the grey seals might do.
§ Lord SCONE
I rise to support this Amendment as one who has been a keen naturalist all his life. Speaking as a naturalist, I do not think the Secretary of State for Scotland quite realises how easy it is in certain circumstances for an animal or bird to be reduced from teem- 125 ing numbers almost to vanishing point in the space of a very few years. Although various species familiar to the ornithologist, and naturalists generally, will perhaps not be familiar to Members of the Committee, I would remind the Committee of the North American bison, which formerly roamed the prairies in countless numbers, but which in a very few years was brought to the verge of extinction, and was only saved by drastic protection. Similarly, in North America, there was the passenger pigeon, which was more numerous than the bison, but the last passenger pigeon died in captivity about the year 1912. Species which breed in very limited areas are at a disadvantage, and a concerted attack lasting for a few years would undoubtedly destroy the grey seal almost completely.
Unless some sanctuary, not only for the breeding season but for all times, is given, such as is mentioned in the Amendment, it will only be too easy to destroy the grey seal almost irrevocably. It is a well-known fact among naturalists, that although an animal can stand a certain amount of persecution in either its breeding quarters or its winter quarters, if you persecute simultaneously in both the breeding and the winter quarters, the outlook of that species is one which is very dark indeed. There was the case of a bird—the Labrador duck. The bird was one which roamed the northern seas in large numbers until it. was attacked simultaneously both in its nesting grounds and in its winter quarters in North America, and now the Labrador duck is only a memory.
I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to accept the Amendment so as to allow the grey seal to have at least one area in which it can be assured of complete protection. If it should be found that calculations are wrong, and that the grey seal increases unduly and colonises in other areas to the detriment of the fishing industry, it will be easy to remove the protection and to kill as many animals as is necessary. I believe that that day is long distant, and I think that it would be a very good thing to give the grey seal protection in at least in one area.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment. The hon. Member said that the Amendment 126 had been promised. I have made careful inquiries—
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I understood him to say that he would give it full consideration. I am sorry that my hon. Friend was under that impression, but the considerations which I hope to urge against the Amendment are, I think he will agree, really strong ones. In the first place there is, I think, a slight error in the Amendment.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Hysker, which my hon. Friend mentions in the Amendment, is not an important breeding place. Hysker, on the other hand, was at one time the scene of a number of clubbing raids on the seal by fishermen, but later investigations which have been made on behalf of the Fishery Board show that there are very few seals. I have had some correspondence with the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), and I have made careful inquiries from Professor Ritchie, who informs me that he thinks that the grey seal has begun to breed on more accessible islands, though he does not think that it would be true to say that that island has been altogether forsaken. At any rate, I really do not think, from the reports I have received, if you want a sanctuary, it would be the right place to have one. I ask the hon. Member to realise that it is not the intention of the Bill that it should be the means of slaughtering the grey seal. As I said before, the Bill gives additional protection to grey seals. They are not a rare species gradually being exterminated and becoming extinct. In 1914, when the first Measure was passed, there were estimated to be only 500 seals, but there are now estimated to be between 5,000 and 6,000, so that the seals are prospering.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am by no means in favour of the free slaughtering of the seal. I would like to see the protection maintained, or increased as it is by this Bill. I, therefore, suggest that we should 127 dismiss from our minds the idea that Ministers and Parliament have conspired to destroy the grey seal. As a matter of fact, we are giving it additional protection, and I ask the Committee to keep in mind the main principle of the Bill, which increases the number of months in which protection is given subject to the discretion of responsible Ministers and, still more, to the House of Commons, which must approve every Order before it can become effective.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
If it be the fact that the island or group of islands is not suitable, will my right hon. Friend be prepared to accept some other island as a sanctuary?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I think I have made it clear that a sanctuary is not necessary. The whole Bill rests upon the idea of giving additional protection to the seal, and we are safeguarding the fishermen against an undue increase in the numbers of the seal, by leaving the powers to be exercised by the Ministers in the control of this House.
§ Mr. LEWIS
As there appears to be some misunderstanding about the acceptance of the Amendment, and as the Minister of Agriculture is not in his place, will the Secretary of State for Scotland undertake to consult his right hon. Friend as to the possibility of introducing some sanctuary on the Report stage?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Certainly, I will consult with my right hon. Friend, but I cannot make any promises.
§ Sir B. PETO
I am not convinced by the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I thought that the principle of having a, sanctuary had been accepted, and that the island which I suggested was suitable. The right hon. Gentleman says that owing to clubbing raids in times past, few seals remain there. But there are a few, and if they were left alone they would increase and probably the species would be saved from extermination. If the right hon. Gentleman does not like Hysker, in the Outer Hebrides, may I substitute the Scilly Isles? I have made considerable investigation about the Scilly Isles and I find that there are no complaints of the seals there doing any harm to the salmon fishery. The Scilly Isles are far enough away from Orkney and 128 Shetland and Caithness. Therefore the fishermen in those quarters will be less injured by a sanctuary in the Scilly Isles than by a sanctuary in Hysker. I should like to substitute the Scilly Isles for the Island of Hysker, in the first line of the Amendment, and to substitute the Scilly Isles for Hysker in the third line of the Amendment. If that were done I think all parties would be pleased and satisfied, and I might be saved the trouble of asking the Committee to divide. If, however, I cannot obtain a sanctuary in the Scilly Isles, which are far enough away from the Orkneys, in substitution for the Island that I have suggested in the Outer Hebrides, for the reason that the Secretary of State for Scotland considers that Hysker would not be a suitable sanctuary, because there are few seals there, I shall be compelled to divide. We are told that we must not have any sanctuary because the grey seals have increased from 500 to 5,000 or 6,000. That is no reason why we should not give an opportunity for preserving the few seals that remain in Hysker after the clubbing.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There is difficulty in pursuing the course suggested by the hon. Baronet. If no Amendment were accepted there would be no Report stage. I think the best thing would be—I am very anxious to meet my hon. Friend—to accept the Amendment that he has moved, on the distinct understanding that we shall have an opportunity on the Report stage of considering the matter again and that the Amendment on the Paper could not in any event be accepted in its present terms.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir B. PETO
I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, at the end, to add the words:(4) Provided that no order shall be made under this Section until after a full investigation has been made into the diet of the grey seal and then only if the result proves that the grey seal is injurious to fisheries.I am prepared to admit, in fact I have evidence from people who have made 129 observations, that the grey seal does eat some food fish. It occasionally eats salmon, but it only eats salmon when it finds them out in the sea and not in the estuaries. The Minister of Agriculture stated on the Second Reading of the Bill on 11th March that the Bill gave power under very careful restriction and inspection by either the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture. Inspection is not the same thing as investigation. What I want to be assured of is that there will be no edict put forward against the grey seals either in any particular locality or generally until there has been an investigation into the question of the food of the grey seal. I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland that it is a question of balance. I make the frank admission that the grey seal will eat salmon in preference to anything else that it comes across in the open sea, but if on balance it eats more injurious fish of one kind or another, that ought to be in its favour. Dogfish has been most often mentioned, and it also eats quantities of pollack and no doubt saithe and lythe. I do not think that would be any serious detriment to the food supply. If, on balance, it is found that the grey seal does not injure but rather helps the fishermen, there should be no destruction.
Before the powers are exercised and Orders are made we are entitled to ask that some little scientific investigation should be made, and not merely an inspection, which would mean, say, that if there are a certain number of grey seals on a particular rock they could order the young ones to be clubbed. The Secretary of State for Scotland accepted the last Amendment more or less pro forma, in order to enable him to go into the matter further on Report stage. Before doing that he indicated that there would be no Amendment accepted, and, therefore, no Report stage. My feeling is that the Amendment which I am now proposing is very important, and I hope that he will accept it, and that in any case the Committee will give leave to us to put it into the Bill.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
While I fully support the lion Baronet, I do not want the Secretary of State for Scotland to have simply a professorial investigation, but 130 that he should take the practical views of fishermen. Fishermen know as much about this subject as any professors in the British Museum or in any other academic institution in the country. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to be good enough to consult the Admiralty also in conference with the fishermen. If he does that he will find that they will help him to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I hope that he will accept the Amendment.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
It is, of course, perfectly competent for the Committee to accept any Amendment that they think fit. With respect to what the hon. Baronet has said about my acceptance of the previous Amendment, I wanted to make it absolutely safe that that Amendment would be considered and discussed on the Report stage. I accepted it in order that we might discuss the matter and that we might safeguard ourselves against the risk of no amendment being accepted by the Committee, in which case there would have been no Report stage and, therefore, no opportunity of meeting the views put forward by my hon. Friend in regard to the establishment of a sanctuary. I hope the hon. Member will not press this Amendment. There is ample evidence that in some cases and at certain times grey seals are very damaging to the interests of fishermen. This does not rest entirely on the evidence of professors, who, nevertheless, are very impartial people.
If we had to accept the fishermen's view it would go contrary to the sense in which the hon. Member desires. It is from the fishing interests that the drive for some measure of control over the grey seal comes. It has also been proved by the practical experience of the Irish Free State that fishing interests are seriously damaged by the grey seal. I am very far from saying that we should take the same action as the Irish Free State because our conditions are somewhat different, but at the moment we are working under an Act, renewed every year, which was passed in 1914. This Act was recently repealed by the Irish Free State because their fishermen were being seriously injured by the operations of the grey seal. At all events, inquiries have already been made and we are satisfied that damage is done in certain circumstances and at certain times, but we can 131 hardly undertake a special inquiry as to the diet of grey seals in any particular locality before taking action under the Bill. I am not anxious to go on talking about my own good intentions but I think I am able to speak of the good intentions of the Minister of Agriculture, and I have no doubt that our successors will have to satisfy Parliament that the Orders contemplated under this Bill are necessary for the protection of fishing interests.
§ Sir B. PETO
The Secretary of State has gone nearly the whole way towards accepting the Amendment, as he says that no Order will be made unless the Department is satisfied after an investigation. Surely he cannot have any serious objection to some inquiry being made. All I want to know is whether on balance the grey seal is injurious or not to the interests of fishermen. I hope he will deal with this Amendment as he did with the last, that is to say, accept it now and consider it again on Report stage; otherwise, I must ask the Committee to divide.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The Amendment undoubtedly means that before any Orders could be made full investigation would have to be made into the diet of the grey seal. Really it is impossible to decide what his particular diet is. You can wrangle for years over that question, and it will be difficult to get any body of men to come to a perfectly unanimous decision as to the diet of the grey seal. All you can do is to take the evidence of practical men like fishermen and the evidence of the advisers at the Fishery Board and decide whether or not an Order shall be made.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 54.]