HC Deb 16 December 1963 vol 686 cc833-6
18. Commander Kerans

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why 350 baby seals were slaughtered on Fame Island recently.

21. Mr. George Craddock

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he ordered the destruction of seals at Farne Island; and if he will make a statement.

22. Mrs. Butler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why part of the seal population on the Farne Islands was killed; what methods of humane killing were used; how many seals were killed; what further killings are planned; and if he will make a statement.

33. Wing Commander Bullus

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the destruction of young seals near Farne Island.

Mr. Soames

In 1959 a Consultative Committee under the Chairmanship of the Nature Conservancy was set up to guide research into the level of the seal population and its effects on the fisheries. The Committee published a Report in May this year under the title Grey Seals and the Fisheries. It recommended that the breeding potential of the seals on the Farne Islands should be reduced by 25 per cent. over the next five years in the interests of the fisheries. I accepted this recommendation. In doing so, I had the support of the Nature Conservancy. The cull this year, carried out on 5th–7th December, amounted to approximately 350 calves—ten short of the target recommended by the Consultative Committee. Most of the calves were killed by Webley Scott pistol at point-blank range, with an inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. present.

Commander Kerans

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this was a monstrously bad piece of public relations, bearing in mind that the Order came into force only on 4th December and that a large number of people in the country have been nauseated by the whole idea? I accept that it is probably necessary, but can my right hon. Friend say what happens to these grey seals after slaughter? Are the carcases used as fertiliser? Are the seals really a serious threat to the salmon fishing industry?

Mr. Soames

I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend accepts the need for this cull, and so do I. It was not a pleasant thing to have to do, but it was something which was necessary. It was recommended by the bodies to which I have referred, including the Nature Conservancy, and the operation had the support of the National Trust, which is responsible for the Fame Islands. It was not pleasant to have to order this cull to be carried out, but it was necessary. The seal population has grown considerably over the years. It is not a question of doing away with the seals but rather of keeping the size of the colony within bounds.

Mr. George Craddock

Do I take it that we are to accept the Report of the Committee that it was absolutely necessary to destroy 350 seals? Is the Minister aware that many people feel that this was a massacre and the whole matter could have been dealt with in quite a different manner? Is he aware that they do not think that there has been an adequate survey of the fishing grounds in the North Sea and the effect of the operations of Russian fishing trawlers up to the three-mile limit? Is he aware that they consider that there are many factors on which enlightenment is needed and I hope the Minister can give it?

Mr. Soames

The necessary Order lay before this House for the customary 40 days. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Nature Conservancy and the National Trust would not recommend such a cull unless it were necessary.

Mrs. Butler

Nevertheless, in view of the many irreparable mistakes which men have made in their commercial, trigger-happy approach to wild life, will the Minister make a careful study of the expert opinion expressed against this project since it took place before he authorises any further slaughter of baby seals?

Mr. Soames

This Report was looked at by the experts, including representatives of the fishery interests, and, as I say, the Nature Conservancy, and they took a number of years to come to a conclusion on it. The conclusion at which they arrived was that there should be this cull. Naturally, a great number of people did not like the pictures which they saw in the Press and on television depicting the carrying out of this cull. Who would, indeed? But anyone who takes a responsible view—I am sure that they would include the hon. Lady—far from decrying the slaughter of the seals, would appreciate the need and applaud the efficient and humane manner in which this very unpleasant operation was carried out.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our fishermen know full well the depredations of the seal population and will welcome any humane methods of controlling that population?

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that those who know this part of the coast, including particularly the inhabitants of villages like Bulmer and Sea-houses, are aware of the damage done by seals, due to the tremendous increase in their numbers, and appreciate the difficulties which the Minister faced? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who saw the television programme depicting the slaughter of the seals—I saw it myself—appreciate the reactions from certain people? Will the Minister take note that those who know the damage which is done by seals appreciate that there must be some control exercised over their numbers?

Mr. Soames

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I believe that what has been done was necessary and represented a responsible approach to the balance of interests. Of course, we wish to see the seal colony continue. No one would think of doing away with them. But their number must be kept within bounds.

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